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Husain's journey: Of million dollar paintings and death threats

Last updated on: June 9, 2011 14:32 IST

Of million dollar paintings and death threats

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Ebullient and eccentric at the same time, barefoot painter Maqbool Fida Husain took Indian art to the global stage with his cubist-inspired modern art but was riled in controversy with his paintings on Hindu deities.

Synonymous with contemporary Indian art, the painter was described as the 'Pablo Picasso' of India by Forbes magazine.

Born on September 17, 1915 in Pandharpur in Maharashtra, Husain was mainly a self-taught artist and made ends meet in his initial days by painting cinema hoardings in Mumbai.

Husain had once recounted that "We were paid barely four or six annas per square foot. That is, for a 6x10 feet canvas, we earned a few rupees.


Image: Husain at work during a India-Pakistan game in Karachi
Photographs: Zahid Hussein/Reuters
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He had lived in self-exile since 2006

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"And apart from the New Theatre distributor, the others did not pay us at all. As soon as I earned a little bit I used to take off for Surat, Baroda and Ahmedabad to paint landscapes," he had said.

Given his meagre earnings, Husain tried other jobs and one of the best paying was a toy factory where he designed and built toys.

The painter, who courted controversy over his paintings of Hindu gods, had been living abroad in self-exile since 2006.

His paintings on Hindu goddesses Durga and Saraswati invited the wrath of Hindu groups. His house was attacked in 1998 by Hindu groups and his art works were vandalised.


Image: M F Husain on his 94th birthday in New York City
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com
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Husain was forced to leave India

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In February 2006, Husain was charged with hurting the sentiment of people because of his nude portraits of Hindu gods and goddesses.

A series of cases were brought against Husain and a court case related to the alleged obscene depiction of Hindu goddesses in his paintings resulted in issuance of a non-bailable warrant against him after he failed to respond to the court's summons. He also received death threats.

Husain, who left the country stating that "matters are so legally complicated that I have been advised not to return home", had expressed a strong desire to come back, despite fears that he may be arrested in connection with the cases against him.

The artist had become well known in the late 1940s and joined the Progressive Artists' Group, founded by Francis Newton Souza in 1947. The group was formed to explore a new idiom for Indian art and was a clique of young artists wanting to break away from the nationalist traditions established by the Bengal School of Art.


Image: The master at work
Photographs: Rediff Archives
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Highest paid painter in India

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Honoured with the prestigious Padma Shree, Husain was the highest paid painter in India with his single canvases fetching up to $2 million at a Christie's auction.

Husain's Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12, fetched $1.6 million in 2008, setting a world record at Christie's South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale. He had also worked on a few films, including Gaja Gamini with his muse actress Madhuri Dixit, who was the subject of a series of his paintings which he signed as Fida.

After a tribute to Dixit, the painter went on to make Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities with Tabu. He had also made paintings of actress Amrita Rao.


Image: A file photo of Husain with Madhuri Dixit

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Among the most influential Muslims in the world

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Troubles always followed Husain and when he was to be given the prestigious Raja Ravi Varma award by the government of Kerala at the age of 92, the announcement sparked a controversy.

Sabarimala spokesperson Rahul Easwar went to the Kerala high court over the issue. The court gave an interim order to stay the granting of the award until the petition had been disposed of.

Included in the list of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World issued by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Husain depicted the icons of Indian culture through the ages, seeking to capture the quintessence of his subjects, like Mother Teresa and the characters of epics like the Mahabharata.

The artist was also honoured with the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his film Through The Eyes Of a Painter and was a special invitee along with Pablo Picasso at the Sao Paulo art Biennial in 1971.


Image: A painting by M F Husain

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