MF Husain Dies – Leaves the World Five Short of a Century.

MF Husain or Maqbool Fida Husain, who was born on September 17, 1915. died in London sometime last night. He was 95 going on 25 – and so despite his age, his death came as a surprise to a lot of people in India.

Here are the things that made MF Husain, who was called the Picasso of India by the Forbes magazine, the only Indian artist who acquired the status that Indians reserve for cine-stars and politicians.

The Cake:

  • He became the highest paid Indian Artist ever! His single canvases have fetched up to $2 million at a recent Christie’s auction.
  • He was possibly the first Indian artist to get international recognition. In 1952, his solo exhibition was held in Zurich. Remember that in those days, the world wasn’t as small as it is today.
  • In 1955, he received Padma shri from the Indian Government. This was followed by a Padma Bhushan (1971), and then a Padma Vibhushan (1991.)
  • The vibrancy of his works and the way they changed the course of Indian Art that was dominated by the Bengali Art until the 1950s, made many Indian artists go modernist.

The Icing:

  • Husain’s personality was as vibrant as his work. He did stuff that no other Indian painter dared to do. He changed his muses every 3 years, and his muses were almost always the prettiest Bollywood actresses. For the actresses as well as for Husain – the muse-making was a win-win situation. Everyone got the lime-light.
  • Hussain was an extravagant spender. When he first came into money, he made “Gaja Gamini” with Madhuri Dixit, his current muse from Bollywood (who is now the matron of a US-based Rich Doctor’s Household.) Then he made “Meenaxi” with Tabu, his second muse.
  • He got caught into the web of controversies by drawing Indian goddesses in the nude, and even representing India (Bharat Mata) as a nude. Some Hindu organizations felt that this was stretching the artistic license too far, especially with his painting, the Rape of India, and so they petitioned in the court against him. With the public sentiment having turned against him – it became safer for him to stay away from India. For this reason, he became known as the “exiled artist”. Recently (2010) Qatar granted him their citizenship. This controversy further improved his x-factor with the Indian media and public.

Husain, the man behind the painter was so full of life that it makes you sad to see him go. But he had a good life and he was a happy man most of his life (except possibly the last decade when he had to remove himself from India) – and this is what we should remember him by. We should also remember him for repainting the image of the Indian Artist from the Bata Hawai Chappal shod (Husain went barefoot) no-gooder to a celebrity whose work could fetch millions.

I think I’ll miss him…and I hope that when he is reincarnated he does everything the same way, but refrains from painting the nudes of Hindu Goddesses and of the country that he is born in.  On the other side, I should acknowledge that it’s impossible to really figure out Husain’s work – so I personally am not sure about whether he really drew that stuff – it looks like it, and then it doesn’t.

We’ve had more realistic (and some times more suggestive) nudes by Amrita Shergill whose princess status gave a her an immunity from societal persecution when she photographed and then painted herself in nude (imagine a bourgeois artist engaging in that sort of behavior) and Anjolie Ila Menon, whose work becomes more graphic with each passing year. But oh…we never had anything against nudity…did we?

Thinking of Husain and of the tug-of-war that always went on inside my head when I looked at his work – May the universal God who doesn’t belong to any religion, rest his soul in peace.


6 comments on “MF Husain Dies – Leaves the World Five Short of a Century.

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  3. No doubt he was a famous artist but why did he have to draw those nude portraits? And this doesn’t have to do with nudity, he must have known well what he was drawing would cause unrest but he drew them anyway. Remember that Danish cartoonist’s work and the aftermath – so much hue and cry. Had MF Hussein done the same with Muslim sentiments, as he did with Hindu’s I doubt he’d have lived 95 years! We have the living example of Salman Rushdie when he had to underground after he stirred the hornet’s nest with his Satanic Verses.


    • Absolutely nothing to do with Nudes, I agree. On a different note, I would think that one should really be an accomplished painter to do nudes – Boris Vallejo is the one who really does justice to them. All those nudes done by Hussain, or AEM, or even Shergill, are quite like the stuff we used to do in school. Yet, as long as the human mind can interpret symbolism, you can’t go about drawing stuff that can be interpreted dangerously. I believe that no religion should be unforgiving…but yes, it rankles more when a man of a different religion who won’t dare to do something to his own religious symbols, happily goes about denigrating yours. Salman Rushdie had the courage to take on his own religion, an unforgiving even punishing one – you need a lot of courage to do that.


  4. Shafali, I very much appreciated this “gallery of Indian artists”. The agony and the ecstasy punctuates the lives of so many great artists. I cheer when learning how each rises above pedestrian shackles.


    • You are right Amy. There are two kinds of Great Indian Artists. The first type paddles long and hard before he’s saved from a wasted life; the other type is born with the label of greatness stuck to his forehead with the glue of the “right contacts”. Hussain was the first kind 🙂
      (You’d expect me to know the difference between “peddle” and “paddle”!!!)


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