PROPERTY OF A DELHI COLLECTOR
Oil on canvas
71 1/2 x 35 3/4 in. (181.6 x 90.8 cm.)
Signed in Devanagari and Urdu lower right and further signed in Devanagari and Urdu and dated and inscribed '1966 / M.F. / HUSAIN' on a label on reverse
'Against a strongly racing line, as in the paintings with horses, flat interrupted surfaces of colour are used to arrest movement, place power on a leash as it were, thereby at once controlling and accentuating it. Colour itself is usually applied in a mixture of brush and knife, in swift sure strokes. The result of all this is a rich and vital art, an abstraction of power, movement and feeling in rare balance.' (Shiv S. Kapur, Husain, Lalit Kala Contemporary Series, New Delhi, 1961, p. viii)
The following two works are ideal examples to understand the various avatars and multiple layers contained in Husain's horses, as described above. The first painting is a single horse from 1966, rearing and prancing; his strong muscles and tendons accentuated through the deliberately chosen thick, almost sculptural medium. Charged with energy, the entire canvas brims with a vitality radiating from the strong animal. It is an intensely seductive painting, captivating the viewer at first glance.
The second work, from a few years later, provides the perfect complement. Calm and muted, the kinetic energy of the first has been converted into a more controlled, potential form that gradually reveals itself over time. Both works use a similar, monochromatic palette to create dramatically different results, a testament to their creator's skill and versatility.
The vertical, single horse is evocative of a relief panel, with several areas of the canvas covered in thick paint. Rendered on a painted background of black chinese lacquer paint which has been diluted in degrees with turpentine to vary the colour, the horse itself has been executed using a mixture of oil paint and gesso, lending it a sculptural thickness and nubby texture, reminiscent of the surface of modern bronzes. He is a powerful beast, rearing up on his hind legs, magnificent in his strength and defiance. The image is further enhanced by the medium, as it enhances the volume of the figure, lending it a three-dimensionality that is usually reserved for objects created in the round.
Several of Husain's works, including the second example of multiple horses being discussed here, use impasto paint to build up thick layers on the canvas. The approach for the single horse, however, with the artist choosing to add an additional thickening agent is different. It hearkens back to his earlier experiments with sculpture from around 1960, where he had created a series of plaster of paris horses. The group of 'fallen' horses were shown lying on the ground, attempting to get back on their feet. Their bodies, though sprawled on the ground, had the same tautness of muscle as seen in the current example. Eventually, Husain would have ideally liked to cast these plaster examples in bronze, but that unfortunately never came to fruition. Conceptually the two experiments are linked.
Like all Husain's horses, this single creature radiates movement and energy. The background, cleverly painted in shades of grey and black adds to the charged atmosphere. The white area on which the animal stands, along with the thin vertical line, are both painterly elements the artist has introduced into the composition as a way of restraining the horse and centering him on the canvas. He has also added hints of yellow paint to the largely grey and white work as a way of livening it and breaking the monotony of the palette.
The second work, comprised of six horses, appears to have evolved and changed according to the artist's impulses, from the first initial drawing to the completed composition. He seems to have added things along the way, first painting the horses, and then filling in the background accordingly. Husain was first introduced to acrylic paint in 1959 and he begins to use it in earnest in the late 1960s, probably just around the time of this work. There is a distinct difference in the treatment of the animals and the background. The forms of the six horses have been created using pigment rather than line, a highly unusual technique for an artist whose line usually defines his work. He has concentrated on creating the bodies of the horses purely with colour, applying thick layers of pigment using a combination of a knife and a broad brush. The well-defined brushstrokes are painted in multiple directions, infusing the group of animals with an energy that emanates all around, engulfing the entire work with a quietly pulsing vitality. This is enhanced by the carefully chosen flat background executed in tones of umber which provides the needed definition to the animals. The blank spaces become the key 'negative spaces' in the work, lending form and shape to the prancing horses. He has cleverly varied the colours of the background, using darker colours in the central area to hold the group together, and then lighter shades around to emphasise the feeling of movement and lightness as they gallop away.
The overall effect is one of controlled energy. The horses are rearing, prancing and galloping, but with a quiet, serene vigour that infuses the entire painting with an elegance only Husain can achieve. 'The horses are rampant or galloping; the manes, the fury, the working buttocks, the prancing legs, and the strong neighing heads with dilated nostrils are blocks of colour which are vivid or tactile or are propelled in their significant progression by strokes of the brush or sweeps of the palette knife. The activity depicted is transformed in the activity of paint.' (Ebrahim Alkazi, M.F. Husain, New Delhi, 1978, p. 3)
About The Artist:
MAQBOOL FIDA HUSAIN (1913 - 2011)