India Modern: The Paintings by M.F.Husain
Maqbool Fida Husain [1915 – 2011] is India’s most important 20th-century artist,
and a vital force in the development of modern Indian art.
The exhibition showcases “Indian Civilization” series of 8 triptych paintings by M.F. Husain,
that he created between 2008 -2011. They were the last works by the artist.
Location: Alsdorf Galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago.
When: July 14, 2017 through March 4, 2018.
The exhibition celebrates the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence.
About “Indian Civilization” series by M.F.Hussain.
The “Indian Civilization” series was commissioned in 2008, by London-based Indian art collectors Usha and Lakshmi N. Mittalin. Lakshmi Mittal is an Indian steel magnate, based in the United Kingdom. He is the chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaking company.
Originally the “Indian Civilization” series was envisaged to consist of 32 triptych with 96 panels. Husain was still working on the paintings at the time of his death in 2011. He had completed 8 of the 32 triptychs. They were the last works of this modern master.
Each of the triptych of the series, display a different aspect of Indian culture. Together they celebrate India’s rich and diverse history and culture.
Each triptych is 12 feet wide and 6 feet high.
The paintings also incorporate memories from the artist’s own life. Like in the triptych “Indian Households,” the artist portray’s himself as a young boy under the charpoy drooling horses on floor and walls around. Hsuain paints his family members in this. His grandfather is smoking Hukka, step-mother is praying, and his sister is eating raw mango. Another autobiographical painting in the series is in right panel of triptych “Modes of Transportation.” His grandfather Baba Abdul in the horse-cart [Tonga] holding a lamp in hand [he repaired these objevcts]. The young artist Maqbool is driving the Tonga to weekly Sunday market in Indore.
The triptych “Tale of Three Cities” is particularly meaningful in its display at the Art Institute, since it depicts Swami Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. It took place at the current site of the museum’s Fullerton Hall.
About the artist Maqbool Fida Husain [1915-2011].
Often referred to as the “Picasso of India,” M.F.Husain is one of the Most important, most celebrated, and arguably the most controversial artists of India.
Maqbool Fida Husain was born on September 17, 1915 in Pandharpur, Maharastra. His father, Fida Hussain, a timekeeper in a mill, was a strict disciplinarian. His mother died when he was very young, and his father remarried. It was his grandfather, an oil lamp seller, who encouraged Husain to paint. He also encouraged Husain’s love for horses, which appear in different forms in many of his works.
Early in his career he painted cinema posters and billboards for Bollywood film industry in Mumbai, earning meager income. Later in life, he rose to becoming the highest paid painter in India. In 2008, his work “Battle of Ganga and Jamuna, Mahabharata 12” [diptych/ 1971–1972] was auctioned by Christie for $US 1,600,000 – highest by any contemporary Indian artist.
In his early years, he struggled to break from the traditional school of art. He wanted to encourage the development of Indian avant-garde art. The political chaos and violence following the independence of India proved to the catalyst that led to the forming The Progressive Artist’s Group in Bombay in December, 1947. He calls India’s partition as the turning point of the country and the emergence of “new” India.
His vibrant paintings were blend of modernism and classical Indian styles. He broke away from the traditions school of art and evolved a language for contemporary Indian art, with its roots in the nation’s culture but using modern techniques. He produced hundreds of pieces of art a year. He was always a nomad, would paint anywhere, from the street to hotel rooms, which he left splattered in colour. His work mixed bold colours and shapes, drawing inspiration from Indian history and mythology as well as curvaceous Bollywood actresses. He was dubbed “India’s Picasso.”
One quirky trivia about the artist is that he was often barefooted.
Interestingly, the Picasso of India exhibited with the real Pablo Picasso of Spain. In 1971, M.F.Husian was a special invited, along with Pablo Picasso, to the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil.
M.F.Husain received some of the highest civilian awards of india. He was awarded Padma Shri [4th highest] in 1966, Padma Bhushan [3rd highest] in 1973, Pardma Vibhushan [2nd highest] in 1991. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986.
He produced a few films. In 1967, his first film, “Through the Eyes of a Painter” was produced. It was written, directed & filmed by the painter. It fetched the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1967. In year 2000, he produced “Gaja Gamini” with his muse Madhuri Dixit, who has appeared in many of his paintings. In 2004, he also produced “Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities,” starring Tabu.
Husain was also a highly controversial figure. He painted Hindu goddesses Durga, Laxmi and Saraswati in nude. In 2006 he caused further outrage with his painting Bharatmata [Mother India], which depicted the shape of the Indian map as a kneeling, naked woman. He apologised and promised to withdraw the painting from a charity auction. He faced several criminal charges for offending Hindu religious sentiment. His art works were vandalised, and he received death threats. Husain left India in 2006.
From 2006 to his death, Husain lived in self-imposed exile in Doha [Qatar] and London [UK]. In 2010, he was conferred Qatari nationality, and he surrendered his Indian passport. Although in the last years of his life he lived in Doha and London; but he expressed a strong desire to return, despite fears of being killed.
M. F. Husain died on 9 June 2011, in London, England, after suffering from ill health for several months. He was 95.
Towards the end of his life, he principally worked on two large projects. One on the history of Arab civilization, commissioned by Qatar’s first lady Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned. The other was commissioned in 2008 by Mrs Usha Mittal to create 32 large-scale paintings of Indian Civilization. He finished 8 before his death.
Indian Civilization series by M.F.Hussain.
Here are the 8 triptych of the series.
Three Dynasties: Moghal – Ashoka – Queen Victoria.
He places the ancient Mauryan civilization centrally between two invading rulers, the Muslim Mughal dynasty (1525-1857) and the British Raj (1858-1947).
The Three Dynasties celebrates the three periods prior to Independence, when Indian subcontinent was largely united.
Left panel: Mughal dynasty [1525-1857]. The left paenl depicts the Matrimonial alliance between Mughan Emperor Akbar and Hindu Rajput princess Jodha of Rajasthan. This was the first time an alliance was formed between an incoming Muslim dynasty and a Hindy kingdom, which strengthed the empire. Akbar accepted the varied hues and richness of Indian culture. His son Salim become Jehangir, the King after Akbar.
Center panel: The narrative begins with the Central panel, which depicts Mauryan dynasty of 3rd century BC. Ashoka the Great fighting fierce battle to make the three lions to climb the Ashoka pillar of victory. But shocked by the devastation of the Battle of Kalinga, he renounced the world and adopted Buddhism. He necame a pacifist and spent the rest of his life spreading words of Buddha.
Right panel: British Raj [1858-1947]. Queen Victoria of England appoints herself the Empress of India. It took about 2 centuries for Mahatma Gandhi to lead the multitude of Indian people to fight for the freedom non-violently. Mahatma Gandhi is recognizable with round glasses and white dhoti. His non violent civil disobedience helped India get Independence from Great Britain in 1947.
Tale of three cities – Delhi, Benaras and Kolkatta.
This triptych focuses on India historic jouney by highlighting three major cities. Benaras also known as Kashi or or Varanasi, the most sacred and ancient city in India, Calcutta [present Kolkatta] the seat of British Raj; and New Delhi, the capital of Indidendent India.
Left panel: Delhi – Nehru’s New India.
The circular Indian parliament proclaim the largest democarcy in the world. The three color on the national flad unfurl in 1947. Teen murti of Nehru, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. A totem of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Easai, and Buddhist. Army Navy and Air-Force is kept alive at India Gate.
Center panel: Varanasi: Vivekanand’s Vedic Vision.
The blue in the panel represents holy river Ganga, that meanders between temples and mosques of India’s most sacred city: Kashi, also known as Benaras or Varanasi. Up above the crimson sky Hanumana flew past the golden pinnacle of temple. On the footsteps of River Ganga a Sadhu in Asan. Sacred scripture, holy dip of worshipping woman, and Shiva’s Nandi bull. At the bottom Bismillah Khan blows his shenai. Swami Vivekanand dominates this section. He is depicted in his iconic posture with arms together at his chest. He attended the World Parliament of Religion in Chicago in September 1893, which took place at the current site of Art Institute of Chicago’s Fullerton Hall.
Right panel: Calcutta: Rabindranath Tagore, Subhas Chandra Bose, Satyajit Ray.
Depectied here are key figures: towering bearded figure is Rabindra Nath Tagore, freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, eternal love of Mother Teresa. and India’s most renowned film maker Satyajeet Ray shooting films. On the top is a leaping Bengal tiger. Also shown is Kali Kalkatte Wali, the goddess after whom the city was named. A Bengali baba being pulled by rickshwa puller. Victoria Memorial in the background.
Traditional Indian Festivals: Holi – Tulsi Pooja – Poornima
Left panel: The whole night around bonfire people sing and dance. Early morning yound men and women chase each other to smudge color powder on their faces. Use pichkari [syringe] to drench bodies in color.
Central panel: In front of every household a plant is planted called Tulsi, to be worshipped each morning by pouring water. Tulsi plant is also known for medicinal values.
Right panel: “Poornima” the night of full moon. Women folk go in groups, singing to the riverbank, with burning diyas in their hand. Float these diyas into the river stream and worship for the long life of their husbands.
Language of Stone.
This triptych is ode to India’s anonymous stone sculptors and the rich heritage of artwork they have produced.
In the left panel, the sculpted wheel and horse refer to the carved chariot-shaped Sun Temple of Konark, on India’s east coast. The tall bearded figure in the center panel is Indian philosopher, musician, and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, with his words “How the language of stone surpasses the language of man.” He said this for the Konark Sun Temple.
The painting pays tribute to some other prominent stone sculptures and rock-cut caves and temple of India, like from Indus Valley Civilization [bearded priest king stone sculpture], rock-cut architecture at Mahabalipuram [carved elephant], rock-cut cave temples of Ajanta, Ellora [stairs and Nandi bull], erotic carvings on the rock-cut temple Khajuraho [embracing couple], and Qutb Minar [tall red sandstone mineret]. Our great master stone carvers, turned the Indian bed rock: from Ajanta Ellora, to Konark, to Khajuraho, to Mahabalipuram, and Qutb Minar; all into a song of Geetanjali.
Indian Dance Forms: Kathak, Kalpana, Kathakali.
Left panel: Kathak dance of Madhuri Dixit. The dance form originated in the 19th century in Lucknow in the court of Nawab Wajidali Shah. Here the dance is being performed by Bombay film actress Madhuri Dixit, who was Husain’s muse for many years, starring in his film Gajagamini in 2000.
Center panel: In the center panel is the renowned Indian dancer Uday Shankar performing the first modern Indian ballet – Kalpana. It was a fusion style of dance, adapting European theatrical techniques to Indian classical dance, imbued with elements of folk, and tribal dance. It was popularised in India, Europe, and the United States in 1920s and 1930s. The ballet was adapted in a black-and-white film in 1948. It was written and directed by Uday Shankar.
Right panel: Kathakali, the most revered dance form of Kerala. Husain noted that Shaji N. Karun’s film Vanaprastham, the Last Dance , helped him understand the nuances of this highly evolved dance form.
The Interiors of 3 urban Indian households – Hindu, Muslim and Sihk – tell a true story of our common people.
Left panel: It depicts the artist’s own family in the Holkar state of Indore in pre-Independence India. Husanin’s grandfather, Dada Abdul, the head of the household, is seen enjoying hukka on a charpoy [rug]. Shirin, his step-mother is praying on a rug. His stepsister Dilbarunnisa is eating a raw mango “Kairi.” The artist portray’s himself as a young boy under the charpoy drooling horses on floor and walls around. Outside the wall a bicycle is waiting for his father Fida to take him to his work at Indore Malwa textile mills.
Center panel: It depicts a Brahmin household from Madhurai. Namboodri is reading morning paper “Hindu” on his arm-chair, his wife Laxmi is on a swing, reminding his school going son Natayan not to forget his umbrella. His daughter Geeta on floor engrossed reading a book. Husain also included the household diety – the dancing Nataraja.
Right panel: It shows the Sikh family from Ludhiana, Punjab. Sardarji Bunta Singh a hardworking truck driver, is proud of his son Bittu in Fauji unifoirm, as the calender poster of Guru Govind Singh is pasted on the wall. This wife Biri on the “Singer” sewing machine, while daughter Daughter Priti is dressed in distinctive Salwar-kameez and in perfect posture of Punjab di Kudi. The alarm clock is perched on the parapet.
Modes of Transport: From Bullockcart to Aircraft.
Left panel: Rolls Royce to Railroads to Air India. Age of urgency and speed. Janata [common man] travels in train. Rich ride Rolls Royce. Executives board the plane. Man is in need to capture the world. In the end we ask: who is the captor? Who is the captive?
Central panel: Pilgrimage to Pandharpur, a town in central India , where the artist was born in 1915. Each year Hindu journey on foot to Pandharpur temple of Vithoda. In a comic touch, Husain depicts devotee in bullock cart driven by Hanumana. Young lovers embrace in bicycle ride hidden bihind in foliage.
Right panel: In another autobiographical painting by Husain. His grandfather Baba Abdul in the horse-cart [Tonga] holding a lamp in hand [he repaired these objevcts]. The young artist Maqbool is driving the Tonga to weekly Sunday market in Indore. At the bottom is a Sikh family. Sardarji is taking his family on the Bajaj scooter to Connaught Place Gurudwara [place of Sikh worship].
Teen Moorti: Brahma – Vishnu – Mahesh.
Hindu Triad: The Creator, The Preservor, The Destroyer.
Right panel: Brahma – The Creator, who visulatized the concept to Universe. And with a bang it appeared physically in the infinite space.
Central panel: Vishnu – the Protector. His serene face is depicted with closed eyees, showing him in deep slumber on cosmic ocean. He rises only when the universe is in danger.
Left panel: Mahesh or Shiva – the Destroyer. The sacred snake is wrapped around his neck. He captures the sacred river Ganga in his matted locks, and brings her down to earth gently so that she does not destroy the earth.