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Untitled (Lady Weaving)

Untitled (Lady Weaving)
oil pastel, gouache and pencil on paper laid on card
19¼ x 24½ in. (48.9 x 62.2 cm.)
Executed circa 1950s
Kumar Gallery, New Delhi
Acquired from the above by the present owner
R. Dean and G. Tillotson, eds., Modern Indian Painting: Jane & Kito de Boer Collection, Ahmedabad, 2019, p. 126 (illustrated)

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Lot Essay

His personal style assimilates the symbolic use of colour and spatial divisions of miniature painting, distinct stances from classical sculpture, and the simplifications and distortions from folk heritage.
- Amrita Jhaveri, 2005.

By the 1950s, when Maqbool Fida Husain painted the present lot, the artist had already become a key figure in the evolution of modern Indian art, and had accomplished an impressive aesthetic journey from his humble beginnings as a billboard painter in Bombay in the late 1930s to co-founding the groundbreaking Progressive Artists' Group with five other artists in 1947. His deep engagement with Indian history, civilization and heroic epics aided him in breaking from tradition and the rigidity of academic painting styles, while never losing sight of the heritage, energy and rhythm of the Indian landscape.

The vast iconographic horizon that the artist drew from to build his unique visual language included an early study of miniature paintings from the Basohli School in 1948. This school was developed in the Punjab hills in the 17th century and is defined by a vitality of color and simple designs within strong, broad borders. These images infused Husain’s mind, and, as the art critic Richard Bartholomew noted, “contributed to the release of lucid colours in [Husain’s] own work. The secret of painting, he discovered, lay in orchestration of colours.” (R. Bartholomew and S. Kapur, Husain, New York, 1971, p. 38) In the following years, Husain continued his wide-ranging exploration of color and composition on his travels, including a short sojourn in China and a visit to the Bern Kunstmuseum in 1953, where he encountered Paul Klee’s oeuvre, which added depth to the syncretic visual vocabulary he was developing for himself.

The present lot was created during this crucial period in the evolution of the artist's oeuvre. Drawing his subject from observations of everyday life in rural India, Husain depicts a seated woman, probably weaving, her figure shaped with a simplified, geometric arrangement of lines and colors that straddles tradition and modernity in the artist’s characteristic style. The string stretched between the figure’s hands and feet subtly instills the composition with dynamism, its diagonal lines separating areas of pure blue, yellow, orange and green. In its saturated colors, strong calligraphic lines and the angularity of the subject's figure, this painting embodies a decisive departure from tradition, embracing the modern.

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