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'Picasso of India' MF Husain passes away

Last updated on: June 9, 2011 17:12 IST

'Picasso of India' MF Husain passes away

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Maqbool Fida Hussain, who rose from a Bollywood billboard artist to India's most celebrated painter worldwide, died in London on Thursday, away from home on a self-imposed exile.

India's very own 'Picasso', who earned both fame and wrath for his paintings, died a Qatari citizen at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London where he was admitted after being in "indifferent health" for the last one-and-a-half month, family sources told PTI.

The legendary Husain, breathed his last at 2.30 am local time (0700 IST) at the age of 95. The cause of his death was not immediately known.

India's biggest grosser as a painter with his works fetching astronomical sums in auctions in London and New York, Hussain turned away from his homeland in 2006 following a series of legal cases and death threats over his depiction of Hindu goddesses in nude.

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Photographs: Courtesy Gautam Rajadhyaksha for rediff
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He accepted Qatari citizenship in 2010 after surrendering his Indian passport.

Hussain's death away from Mumbai, where he started as a painter of Bollywood posters in the 1920s and later went on to achieve iconic status, was symbolic of the controversy that forced him out of India and dogged him to the last.

Though in his last interviews he expressed his desire to return home to spend the last days of his life, the celebrated artist could never make it back.

Over the years, Hussain's career and success closely mirrored the meteoric rise of contemporary Indian art on the international stage.

Dividing his time between London and Dubai, Hussain would often be seen walking barefoot in Mayfair, striding from his studio to Shepherd Market with a paintbrush in hand.




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Born in Pandharpur in Maharashtra on September 17, 1915, Hussain's paintings on goddesses Durga and Saraswati invited the wrath of Hindu groups who attacked his house in 1998 and vandalised his art works.

In February 2006, Hussain was charged with hurting sentiments of people. In the wake of legal challenges and death threats in his home country, he had been living abroad in self-imposed exile since then.

As he had not responded to summons from an Indian district court in Haridwar, a court in Haridwar ordered that his property be attached and a bailable warrant was also issued against him by an Indore court.

But, the Supreme Court stayed both the court orders.



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The controversy followed him to London, when his paintings were sought to be exhibited in London galleries.

In 2006, when Asia House organised an exhibition of Hussain's paintings, the Hindu Forum of Britain launched a protest campaign against his depiction of Hindu religious figures, forcing the organisers to withdraw the event.

The exhibition was inaugurated by the then Indian high commissioner Kamalesh Sharma, but sparked furious protests from some Hindu organisations in Britain.

The three-month exhibition was withdrawn within days of its opening on May 10.

Steeped in India's syncretic traditions, Hussain was a Bohra and was well versed in Hindu religious texts.

He said in an interview of his time in the 1920s: "I used to have terrible nightmares when I was about 14 or 15. This stopped when I was 19".

"I had a guru called Mohammad Ishaq -- I studied the holy texts with him for two years. I also read and discussed Gita and Upanishads and Puranas. This made me completely calm".

Hussain's passing away sparked a wave of tweets, online postings and re-run of interviews with him on television and online news, acknowledging his stature as one of India's greatest artists.

Many recalled that he was branded by Western art critics as 'India's Picasso'.

Hussain had always insisted that his heart remained in India and that "99 per cent" Indians loved him.



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He said in an interview: "For me, India means a celebration of life. You cannot find that same quality anywhere in the world. I never wanted to be clever, esoteric, abstract. I wanted to make simple statements. I wanted my canvasses to have a story. I wanted my art to talk to people".

Three of Hussain paintings recently topped a Bonham's auction, going under the hammer for Rs 2.32 crore with an untitled oil work in which the legendary artist combined his iconic subject matters -- horse and woman -- fetching Rs 1.23 crore alone.

In 1955, he was awarded the Padma Shree. In 1967, he made his first film, Through the Eyes of a Painter that was shown at the Berlin Film Festival and won a Golden Bear.

Husain was a special invitee along with Pablo Picasso at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1971. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1973 and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986.

In 1991, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan.

He also produced and directed a few movies, including Gaja Gamini with his muse Madhuri Dixit who was the subject of a series of his paintings which he signed as Fida.


Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com
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