M.F. Husain: Master of Modern Indian Painting - About the Exhibition

M.F. Husain, Ganesha, 2008. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

M.F. Husain, Ganesha, 2008. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Maqbool Fida Husain, known as M.F. Husain (1915-2011), was one of India’s most eminent artists. Born in Pandharpur, his early years were spent in Indore. Husain began his career as a painter of cinema hoardings after attending art school in Bombay (now Mumbai). Using freehand drawing and vibrant colour, he depicted Indian subject matter in the style of contemporary European art movements, particularly Cubism.

Indian Civilization is an ambitious series of eight triptych paintings, commissioned in 2008 by Mrs Usha Mittal as a tribute to the richness of India’s history. Each panel explores a different theme, together creating a personal vision of India, what Husain called ‘a museum without walls’.

Interweaving religious and symbolic iconography with historic figures and events, the paintings also incorporate memories from the artist’s own life. Originally envisaged as a series of 96 panels, Husain was still working on the paintings at the time of his death in 2011.

The Indian Civilization series

Husain marked the ceremonial beginning of his Indian Civilization series by painting the Hindu deity Ganesha. Known as the remover of obstacles, Ganesha is a patron of the arts and letters, worshipped at the beginning of any endeavour. He is represented as a four-armed man with an elephant head, shown here with an ancient terracotta goddess figure at his side.

Click on images to reveal larger versions and handwritten memories from Husain's own life.

Three Dynasties

Husain celebrates three ruling dynasties from India’s long and tumultuous history. He places the ancient Mauryan civilization centrally between two invading rulers, the Muslim Mughal dynasty (1525-1857) and the British Raj (1858-1947).

M.F. Husain, Three Dynasties, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

M.F. Husain, Three Dynasties, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Language of Stone

‘How the language of stone surpasses the language of man.’ Husain uses the words of the poet Rabindranath Tagore to pay tribute to India’s great sculptural heritage. To him, they are a collection of ‘poems in stone’.

M.F. Husain, Language of Stone, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

M.F. Husain, Language of Stone, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Traditional Indian Festivals

Husain captures the colour and spirit of Indian festivals. These ancient celebrations and rituals reflect the passing of time and show the enduring role of religion and tradition in Indian culture.

M.F. Husain, Traditional Indian Festivals, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

M.F. Husain, Traditional Indian Festivals, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Indian Households

Husain reflects on the domestic lives of India’s citizens, showing the daily routines of three ordinary urban families. The major religions of India are represented, with three generations sharing their homes and their faith.

M.F. Husain, Indian Households, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

M.F. Husain, Indian Households, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Modes of Transport

Husain presents the multiple journeys of India’s citizens as a metaphor for the journey of life. He captures the frenetic pace of everyday living and the disparities of the modern world.

M.F. Husain, Modes of Transport, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

M.F. Husain, Modes of Transport, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Tale of Three Cities

Three of India’s great cities assume different symbolic meanings. Delhi represents India’s nationhood, Varanasi its spiritual centre and Kolkata its culture and activism.

M.F. Husain, Tale of Three Cities, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

M.F. Husain, Tale of Three Cities, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Indian Dance forms

Husain captures the regional diversity of Indian dance forms, an integral part of high culture and festival ritual. Reflecting his love of both dance and the cinema, Husain explores how movement is captured on film.

M.F. Husain, Indian Dance forms, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

M.F. Husain, Indian Dance forms, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Hindu Triad

Husain depicts the Trimurti, the three principle gods of the Hindu religion. Brahma is the creator of the universe, Vishnu its protector and preserver and Shiva is its destroyer.

M.F. Husain, Hindu Triad, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

M.F. Husain, Hindu Triad, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

With thanks to Mrs Usha Mittal

With kind support from Christie's

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