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The Hostages

The Hostages
signed and dated 'Husain Nov.4. 1979-80' (lower left)
acrylic on canvas
45 ¾ x 121 ¼ in. (116.2 x 308 cm.)
Painted in 1979-80
Galerie Jourdan, Montreal
Acquired in Montreal, 1997
Thence by descent
Les Otages, Mère Theresa, exhibition catalogue, Montreal, 1981, pl. 1 (illustrated)
A. Kaul, 'M.F. Husain-watching zooms to the status reserved for top most art celebrities', India Today, 15 June 1981 (illustrated)
Montreal, Galerie Jourdan, Les Otages, Mère Theresa, March 1981
New York, Pierre Cardin Evolution, Tribute to Mother Theresa, 26 October - 31 December, 1982
Seville, Universal Exhibition of Seville, 1992

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Lot Essay

“At their best, [Husain's] paintings are profound, but they are never forbiddingly intellectual or cerebral. They have a strong emotional undercurrent, an engaging warmth, an immediate visual appeal, and they are passionately humanistic. Man is central to Husain's paintings. He is the artist's sole concern. All his technique, imagination and skill are at the service of an image of man which proclaims his dignity and essential work” (S.A. Krishnan, ‘M.F. Husain’, Lalit Kala Contemporary 27, New Delhi, 1979, p. 22).

From the late 1970s to the early 1980s, Husain undertook a few significant series of paintings, executing several paintings from them in a monumental format. A nod to his love of cinema and desire to commemorate in paint artistic achievements, people and events that moved him deeply, these works included a group inspired by Luis Buñuel's 1977 film, That Obscure Object of Desire, another by the unprecedented hostage crisis in Iran that unfolded from 1979 to 1981, and also a moving tribute to Mother Teresa through now iconic motifs that stayed with him through the rest of his career.

It was during this period as well that Husain found new patrons outside India, particularly in Dubai and Canada. In Montreal, Galerie Jourdan sponsored his work and exhibited it around North America and Europe. It was while the artist was in Canada, that he heard about the storming of the United States Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 by armed students supporting the Iranian revolution. Although a few diplomats escaped with the help of Canadian colleagues that day, fifty-two hostages were taken, to be kept captive for 444 days.

The seemingly unending plight of the victims deeply moved Husain, inspiring him to paint a series of works on the subject. The present lot, the first and most significant painting from this series titled Les Otages or The Hostages, is a commanding work, both in subject and scale. Memorializing the day of the siege, Husain paints his interpretation of the distressing black and white images of bound and blindfolded embassy staff and servicemen that had been circulating in the news. Amplifying the hostages terror, Husain portrays the seven figures with their mouths open, as if silently screaming to be rescued, their fates still unknown. In addition to its powerful composition and monochromatic palette, the imposing dimensions of this painting endow it with a theatricality that may be traced to Husain’s long association with film and his first job as a painter of cinema billboards in Bombay, making its subjects hard to ignore.

Synonymous with Indian Modernism, Husain’s work has been exhibited around the world. In 1971, cementing his reputation on an international stage, Husain exhibited at the Sao Paulo Biennial as a special invitee alongside Pablo Picasso. Since then, his work has been shown in solo exhibitions at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem; the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi; and the Art Institute of Chicago among other international institutions. Awarded the Padma Shri (1966), Padma Bhushan (1973) and Padma Vibhushan (1991), three of India’s highest civilian honors, the artist ranks among India’s most famous sons.

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