PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE LATE BADRIVISHAL PITTI
Oil on board
77 1/2 x 48 in. (196.8 x 121.9 cm.)
Signed and dated 'Husain / 1955' upper left
Husain’s primary concern has always been the figure, more importantly the female form. ‘Woman is the sentient point of man’s natural being. She has curiosity, she suffers, she gives birth willingly. There is pity in her eyes and love in her breast. Man is, according to Husain, virile only in heroism, is broken by pain. Husain paints women because these are not heroic times and, tenderly joyous or suffering, women remain vital.’ (Shiv S. Kapur, Husain, Lalit Kala Contemporary Series, New Delhi, 1961, p. v-vi)
His women of the early 1950s are strong, conscious beings. They are frequently shown within a rural setting employed in simple, daily activities or preparing for a community celebration. By the middle of the decade, these settings largely disappear, leaving only the figures, thus making the formal aspects of the painting rather than the subject or context of primary importance, as seen in the current example.
‘It was only in the 1950s that we see him overriding the subject and painting figures which were simply forms and more importantly coloured spaces…these figures begin to be distorted and to appear on flattened surfaces. They are delineated in broken lines and their chief glory is their tonal harmony. His palette has always been a rich amalgam of varied colours. Thus in the early 1950s Husain has begun to free his art from subject matter and his colour from being restricted or confined within forms.’ (Jaya Appasamy, ‘Husain’, Lalit Kala Contemporary 10, New Delhi, September 1969, p. 29)
The current work of a monumental single female figure embodies Appasamy’s description. Placed on a single plane against a monochromatic background with slight tonal variations, the figure dominates the picture frame. Outlined in thick black strokes, she is composed entirely of geometric shapes and blocks of colour; sometimes complementary, at other times juxtaposed against each other for maximum aesthetic impact. The slabs and wedges of middle yellow, Naples yellow, umber, grey, blue and green with black and white, applied with a palette knife in the upper half and contrasted with more fluid brushstrokes on her lower body present a bold, balanced figure. ‘There is no recession, the entire picture is built on the surface, the black lines breaking into each colour enhances its structural quality.’ (ibid., p. 30)
‘With a comprehensive view of life investing them, Husain has progressively laid bare his figures. They are given no landscape of time and place, no background except carefully worked tonal tensions. These figures have no drapery. They come clothed only in colour… they come from a territory of the mind, at once idea and living reality… They come from a territory, however, recognisably Indian in its sensibility and symbolisation: contemplative, brooding, often heavy with the mystery of life.’ (Shiv S. Kapur, op. cit., p. vi)
Husain’s female protagonists tend to offer a broader commentary on the position of women in India. Figures such as the strong, dynamic female in the current work capture the artist's own impression of women. Even though they may have preordained roles within society, for Husain, the woman has always been a source of innate strength and resilience and is therefore always shown in a positive, nurturing role.
During the mid 1950s Husain painted several large format portraits of women. A famous portrait of the classical dancer Indrani Rahman from 1956 shows striking similarities to the current work in the colour application and geometric treatment of the body. While Rahman was almost certainly one of Husain’s muses, it is possible that other monumental female forms such as the current work were the precursors to the iconic female figures that appear in his seminal painting Between the Spider and the Lamp that was created a year later in 1956. Certain academics claim that the Devanagari letters written in the upper band of the painting correspond to the initials of the women who he had painted earlier, and thereby inspired him to paint his masterpiece. Whilst that art historical mystery is one that Husain deliberately kept unresolved, the current painting may provide part of the answer to this intriguing puzzle.
About The Artist:
MAQBOOL FIDA HUSAIN (1913 - 2011)