Since the 1950s, the notion of rasa (aesthetic rapture) has played an important role in appreciating the great artistry of Maqbool Fida Husain. Many of his works are inspired by the inter-disciplines of music, dance, sculpture, and film. Deeply rooted in an Indian ethos and vernacular, Husain understood classical Sanskrit notions on aesthetics at its most fundamental level: that to know how to paint, one must also comprehend form, movement and music.
In 1948, Husain travelled with Francis Newton Souza to Delhi where they attended a major exhibition of Indian antiquities and classical art organised during the first year of independence. Husain recalls, "We went to Delhi together to see that big exhibition of Indian sculptures and miniatures which was shown in 1948 [...] It was humbling. I came back to Bombay in 1948 with five paintings, which was the turning point in my life. I deliberately picked up two or three periods of Indian history. One was the classical period of the Guptas. The very sensuous form of the female body. Next, was the Basholi period. The strong colours of the Basholi miniatures. The last was the folk element. With these three combined, and using colours-- very boldly as I did with cinema hoardings [...] I went to town [...] That was the breaking point [...] To come out of the influence of British Academic painting and the Bengal revivalist school." (M.F. Husain quoted by P. Nandy, The Illustrated Weekly of India, December 4-10, 1983; cited by Y. Dalmia, 'M.F. Husain: Re-inventing India,' M.F.Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950's-70's, exhibition catalogue, Asia House, London, 2006, unpaginated).
In Untitled (Figures in Blue) Husain pays homage to all of these qualities. The figures are rendered in piercing blue borrowing from the bold colours of Basholi miniatures. The fashion in which these women are playfully stylized animates the canvas and references the folk tradition. Through the pose of the figures Husain appropriates Indian classical sculpture and the traditional Tribhanga pose. In this classical stance of Tribhanga (three bends) common in temple sculpture, a figure is portrayed in three broken movements.
In this painting from 1968, one can see the influence of classical Indian sculpture, the aesthetic relationship Husain perceives between dance, sculpture and painting and Husain's interest in converting sculptural and three-dimensional figures into a flat two-dimensional surface. Here the women are represented with strong, sensuous lines. Against a sophisticated, natural pallette, they stand in graceful postures borrowed from Indian dance. They have a shared sense of rhythm that is carried through the painting in their movements and body language. Movements, Husain sees transcending sculpture to the natural movements inherent of Indian women. In the East the human form is an entirely different structure [...] the way a woman walks in the village there are three breaks [...] from the feet, the hips and the shoulder [...] they move in rhythm. [...]" (P. Nandy, The Illustrated Weekly of India, December 4-10, 1983)
Husain extols all these magnificent historical qualities whilst maintaining a thick expressive brushstroke and fracturing forms which was are so quintessential to his modern practice "Even if the figures are not in motion, the curvilinear forms, their stances, the rhythmic lines, the use of paint are all employed with a sense of urgency and create a feeling of exuberance which is typical of him [Husain] and his personality." (Paritosh Sen, 'The Figure in Indian Art', Lalit Kala Contemporary 17, Delhi, 1974, p. 11)