PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN
Oil on canvas
24 3/8 x 38 1/8 in. (61.9 x 96.8 cm.)
Signed and dated in Devanagari upper left
'Husain drew from the classical, the miniature and folk, and attempted to meld it into a language which formulated the present. It allowed him to express a perceived reality which, while being seamless, mythical and vast, was at the same time hurtling towards industrialisation and modernisation.' (Yashodhara Dalmia, 'M.F. Husain: Reinventing India', introductory essay to M. F. Husain, Early Masterpieces 1950s - 70s, exhibition catalogue, Asia House, London, 2006, unpaginated)
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Husain travelled widely throughout the Indian subcontinent exploring the landscapes and various cultures of India. During his travels, Husain was inspired by the varying scenery, the people he encountered, and the stories and artistic traditions that they had inherited. The resulting compositions, for the most part, depict hardy rural types surrounded by their families.
'There is undoubtedly a strong element of romanticism at work in Husain's impulse to portray rural India... In his tendency to romanticise, he is in line with Amrita Sher-Gil, Jamini Roy and George Keyt... It is Amrita Sher-Gil who shaped the most haunting image of the Indian villager... She made her Indians beautifully dark and emaciated; she showed them immobile, brooding over an everlasting dream. Husain took Amrita's legacy further towards a more authentic stage. His villagers are not particularly beautiful; but surrounded by their tools, their animals, their magic signs and symbols, they appear more truly alive, secure and rooted in their environment.' (Geeta Kapur, 'Maqbool Fida Husain', Contemporary Indian Artists, New Delhi, 1978, p. 127)
This unusual night scene appears to depict buildings either strung out along the edge of a river, or perhaps clinging to a rugged desert outcrop. Unlike the majority of the colourful scenes that Husain depicts, it is entirely devoid of humanity. In many ways, it bears a striking similarity to the dark, early, abstracted cityscapes by Ram Kumar, from a similar period, which depict the city of Benaras. Although the work appears to be untitled, it is quite possible that the scene is inspired by the holy city, which Husain first visited with Ram Kumar in 1960. Both artists were deeply moved by their first impressions, and went on to produce a large body of work inspired by the city.
'Twenty years since Ram Kumar and myself sailed silently close to the ghats of Varanasi, my fascination for that eternal city is ever growing... Every morning, the proverbial Morn of Benares (Subah-e-Benares) would glow in gold and we pass by many ghats without a word. Only later we break our silence at a roadside Bengali coffee house...!' (Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni, Husain: Riding the Lightning, Mumbai, 1996, p. 110)
In the 1960s, abstraction was sweeping the global art scene, but Husain remained firmly rooted as a painter of figures. As an Indian, he claimed he could be nothing other than a figurative painter as 'wherever he turns he encounters a human being.' (Geeta Kapur, op. cit., p. 134) Even so, for a brief period between 1962 and 1964, Husain produced a small series of abstract landscapes including Chittore Fort and Red Desert. The appearance of this group of semi-abstract landscapes at this stage in his career is notable, for it was a period when his paintings came under increased scrutiny from his critics. Many felt that his reluctance to move away from figurative painting was limiting his scope and standing as a true artist of the Modernist movement. This small group of more abstracted paintings may have represented, in his own mind, an answer to these critics, for they demonstrate his skill as a colourist. However, unlike his associate Raza, whose works from a similar period became increasingly abstract and gestural, Husain soon returned to the human figure, but with a renewed interest in integrating the figures more fully with their surrounding landscape.
As Alkazi articulates, 'We discern the manner in which Husain merges man and landscape, where the human beings take on the contours of rugged hills, rural hamlets, and incorporate in their own shapes the flora and fauna of the countryside.' (Ebrahim Alkazi, M. F. Husain The Modern Artist and Tradition, New Delhi, 1978, p. 4)
The colours of the original are brighter and richer than the catalogue illustration with greater tonal contrasts throughout. The whites of the original are brighter and whiter than they appear in the catalogue and the blues have a greater range of tonal notes. The painting has been recently cleaned and varnished. Two minor spots have been retouched within the black pigment at the left edge and pale blue portion at the lower centre, both of which are visible under UV light. Good condition overall.
About The Artist:
MAQBOOL FIDA HUSAIN (1913-2011)