Establishing his practice along with the Partition in the 1950s, M.F. Husain participated and played a big part in the creation of the modern Indian pictorial tradition. “For Husain, modern Indian pictorial language needed to be recognizable to the people on the street and in the village. After the Partition, a modern India needs an artist for its people. For Husain, as shared Indian identity and humanity was the entrance to creating a universal pictorial language that Indians could understand and use.[…]”(Thaara Shankar, M.F. Husain’s Modern India, Bowdoin Journal of Art, John Hopkins University, 2018, p. 12)
As the country was struggling to regain identity post-independence, there was a great desire to document and promote the nation’s rich and varied heritage of art. Believing that modern Indian picture has a firm place within India’s long history, Husain plied various sources and presented a range of images depicting the nation; from dancers, sculptures, to images of the great epics – subjects that Husain considered readily available and deemed representative of the Indian culture and heritage.
Imbibing the creative interaction between different art forms, Husain initiated his series on musicians in 1959, a theme that he revisited throughout the following decades. He adopted traditional postures from sculptures to convey a sense of movement in his figures and depicted traditional instruments to express a sense of music and dance on his canvases.
In the current lot featuring the junction between artistic interpretation and content, Husain used his own pictorial language by straying from any defined qualities and adapting symbols as visual stimuli. The featureless face of the woman is adorned with ‘kumkuma’ and jewelry while the veena seen here is typical of Husain’s iconography, and a recurring motif in his paintings of musicians. The blue outlining the figure in contrast to the otherwise earthy swatch of ochre and brown creates a sense of depth and movement in the composition. Husain stretched icons and played with the blurriness by employing a simplified composition in an undefined setting and focusing on the representational more than individualizing details.
“My subject is woman”, M.F. Husain once stated. Women of all sort – rural and urban, anonymous and famous, mortal and divine– have been his subject from the very start of his career as an artist.
Husain’s interest in the female figure and posture led to his involvement with the subject and a personal idiom that emphasized on the form and not on the emotions evoked. In order to do this, he depersonalized his women and rendered them faceless; with few exceptions including the current image. Here, the titular woman appears with a clearly delineated face; although half of it is partially covered with the canopy of hair. She is placed in an undefined setting completely liberated from the confinement of any social or ethnic references. The shadows around her play an important role in defining and outlining her figure.
As an artist, Husain had a keen interest in the erotic but usually avoided frontal nudity in his work. He deliberately emphasized the erotic aspect of the female form as an epitome of sensuality and beauty, yet none of this was explicitly and directly explored. Instead, he juxtaposed the female figure with folk elements and symbols –of which India has an abundance of– such as lamps, spokes, and spiders. In this case, a snake around the woman’s neck alludes to male energy and virility.
Sayed Haider Raza had grown increasingly unhappy and restless with his own work by the start of the 1970s. The desire for a new direction and deeper authenticity in his work urged him to move away from plastic arts and study his Indian heritage in an in-depth manner. Starting from this period, he underwent a gradual transformation from an expressionist to a master of abstraction and profundity before arriving at the Bindu.
Painted in 1974, a decade after Raza’s shift in style to find a purer form of abstraction, the current work is part of the culmination of this period of experimentation. He was no longer concern with the representational and began to communicate mood rather than images through his canvases. He skillfully used colors and gestural brushstrokes to convey warmth and lyrical messages rather than use direct representation to express emotions in the piece. Here, the composition is executed in loose brushstrokes, a departure from his previous style of semi-abstraction, and a precursor to his heavily structured geometric canvases. Albeit the change in stylistic and technical concerns, nature and its elements had remained the basis and inspiration to his art.
Films had long been a part of M.F. Husain’s preoccupation as an artist and one of the main sources of material and inspiration for his works. His exposure to the cinema had started early in his career after getting his start in painting cinema hoardings. This has influenced his art in the same manner as his experiences with literature and mythology did. Even the technique of depicting different scenes and symbology or juxtaposing apparently unconnected or even contrary elements in a single frame can be attributed to this influence to some extent.
The current lot titled ‘Mera Piya Ghar Aaya Ho Ramji’ was painted in 1996, based on scenes from the hit song ‘Mera Piya Ghar Aaya’ in the Bollywood film ‘Yaraana,’ released in 1995. The film starring actress Madhuri Dixit became popular for this hit song, which was inspired by a Punjabi song of the same title written by 18-century poet Baba Bulleh Shah. In this painting, Husain presumably depicts Madhuri and another woman dancing to the same song, while Lord Ganesha, patron of arts joins them.
Madhuri is one of Husain’s muses; his fascination with the actress started after watching her performance in the film, ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun!’ (1994) which the artist watched for a total of 67 times. His fondness for Madhuri led him to create a series of painting based on her and her films, including the present lot. In 2000, Husain debuted ‘Gaja Gamini’ starring the actress which was intended as a tribute to womanhood and to Dixit herself.
Husain’s gift of celebrating both the profound and the banal encompassed varied art forms including popular cinema. Aside from ‘Gaja Gamini’, Husain also directed the experimental film ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’ (1967) and ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities’ (2004). His obsession with cinema was palpable and continued until his death in 2011.
Throughout his long artistic career, M.F. Husain exposed the moral dilemmas of his nation using imaginative structures and images steeped in awareness of art history. Part of this prolific journey was the exploration of themes and subjects reflecting on the changing society and cultural landscape.
From 1991 onwards, the narrative elements in Husain’s work became prominent. He started digressing from his old repertoire of symbols after recognizing that it was no longer adequate to express his artistic concerns as he became a citizen and artist of the world. Husain accommodated trends and turned his gaze towards the contemporary image-dominated scene of America.
Coming from a period of time when a lot of famous artists have indulged in acquiring muses from the world of cinema, like Marilyn Monroe, who became Andy Warhol’s muse and a global favorite to be featured in various forms and mediums of art. Husain made public his obsession with his muse, Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit, and created a string of works on her which was akin to what Andy Warhol did with the image of Marilyn Monroe. But more than the similarities and the perceived effect of bridging art and cinema, Husain also delved into Warhol’s depiction of celebrity culture. Warhol who is almost synonymous with American pop culture focused his artistic concerns to brands and products that were part of the mass consumerism phenomena.
In Andy Warhol versus Marilyn Monroe (2005), Warhol’s figure was depicted in a dominant stance yet at the same time clinging on to the image of Marilyn Monroe fading into the background and out of the frame. Husain’s brilliant colors envelop the space with symbolic and expressive values, and his distinct human forms transform the narrative on the painting surface into an intimate experience fusing contemporary imagery and poetic use of allegory and metaphor which serves as the core of this work. His lines depict motion, energizing his pictorial space in a whopping 6 x 7.5 ft. canvas, part of a 21-part series titled “The Lost Continent” reflecting Husain’s thought about lost human values.
Husain made use of Andy Warhol’s fascination on Marilyn Monroe in his explorations on the relationships between consumer society, fame, and sensationalism. Reflecting on the multiple images of Marilyn Monroe done by the artist, he breathes life to an icon and at the same time made a poignant allegory against consumerism. Through Warhol’s lens and in turn the popular culture, he referred to a society in which individuals were seen as mere products rather than human beings.
M.F. Husain’s endless quest for his cultural roots and his open-minded willingness to absorb diverse influences has made him almost synonymous with modern Indian art. He began his career by painting billboards for feature films and making furniture designs and toys, to earn a living. When he took up painting as an art form, however, he returned time and again to themes of blended folk, tribal and mythological art to create vibrantly contemporary, living art forms. Husain’s paintings reflect his love of India and his knowledge of rural life. He depicted the icons of Indian culture, through the ages, seeking to capture the quintessence of his subject.
He employed an impasto technique to create texture in the present lot. The faces are monumental, simplified in a modernist manner and depicted in a roughly-hewn way. “Husain’s men and women, outwardly simple and unsophisticated, are highly conscious beings. They are conscious of being channels through which life runs its course. Very often they are caught listening and intent upon that flood within them, tense because of what they hear, with eyes of solemn curiosity and a mantle of silence around them. Even in groups, sitting or standing together, these men and women are supremely solitary. They do not communicate with each other. They remain locked in binding compassion, in a unity of color and composition divided by a wondrously understanding line.” (S. S. Kapur, Husain, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi 1961, p. v.)
Published June 4, 2019 (widewalls.ch) in Widewalls Editorial: Collector’s Tip
If you are a Widewalls reader, by now you know that your go-to auction house when it comes to Modern and Contemporary South Asian art is ARTIANA. This young, yet relatable Dubai-based venture is now preparing yet another sale dedicated to the masters of the Indian subcontinent and their works in a splendid variety of media.
Here we are talking about some of the biggest names of the region, including Maqbool Fida Husain, Sayed Haider Raza, Francis Newton Souza and the Progressive Artists’ Group. Highlights of the sale belong to Raza’s 1974 painting Composition (estimate US$ 14,000 – 20,000), but also Husain’s rare Raj series – from it, the sale will offer Kathak Dance Performance at the Maharaja Darbar (US$ 350,000 – 550,000) and Andy Warhol versus Marilyn Monroe (US$ 250,000 – 350,000). Make sure you also do not miss Souza’s La Place Town Square (US$ 150,000 – 250,000) and calligraphies by Jamil Naqsh.
As usual, ARTIANA will apply its No Buyer’s Premium policy (what you bid is what you pay) and will allow its buyers to “Bid Now and Pay Later”, thanks to FlexiPay. More on this can be heard from ARTIANA’s own Lavesh Jagasia, who talks to Widewalls about what makes this sale remarkable and what the buyers can expect.
The South Asia Art Auction of June 2019
Widewalls: What can you tell us about M.F. Husain’s “Raj” series, whose “Kathak Dance Performance at the Maharaja Darbar” painting is the star lot of this auction? Why is this work seminal?
Lavesh Jagasia: M.F. Husain painted images from the colonial period in India in the late 1980s. This series of paintings which we came to know as the Raj series, is the artist’s memories of the British rule in erstwhile India. This work is seminal as it was painted when Husain first worked on this series and created fine works during the period.
Husain grew up with this imagery and chose to portray the lighthearted moments of the British rule rather than the somber. This satirization and refusal to historicize subjects gave him the freedom to portray the confluence of cultures in a humorous but nonetheless edgy way and distinguished his art from other artistic attempts to portray the specific time period. Furthermore, the lot highlights an important aspect of Husain as an artist – that is his portrayal of India’s varied artistic tradition as a continuum. By focusing on Kathak, a form of Indian Classical dance, and juxtaposing it with the subject of the Raj we can clearly see Husain’s interest in merging dance, visual art, and history in his work.
Widewalls: What about “Andy Warhol versus Marilyn Monroe”? Could this be considered a nod to Western art?
LJ: Besides his own surroundings, M.F. Husain was updated on international trends and icons of Western Art. In this particular image from The Lost Continent series, he acknowledges the impact of big personalities and their iconography in the popularization of the arts, and in his own unique visual language expresses his take on it as an artist of the world.
In this painting, besides paying tribute to another great artist, Husain delves into the commercialization of the arts through Andy Warhol’s fascination with Marilyn Monroe and his usage of screen-prints to extend the reach of his art. The work, both inquisitive and allegorical, poses questions to the onlooker regarding the popularity of Warhol’s art; either due to his commercial printing method or the usage of a popular icon that made it sought after. Aptly titled, Andy Warhol versus Marilyn Monroe, Husain explores the relationships between consumerism, fame, and sensationalism in this piece.
Widewalls: The sale will also offer calligraphies of the recently deceased Jamil Naqsh. Will the artist’s market soar after his death, in your opinion? What has your experience on such cases been so far?
LJ: Yes, we are offering 3 lots from this series, each lot comprising of 4 calligraphy works by Jamil Naqsh from his Painted Word exhibition of 2013. The works composed of Islamic calligraphies, use words and phrases with profound religious meaning in the Muslim faith, rendered in the late artist’s unique and modern style.
Typically the expectation which has also been our experience is that the prices do move up as the works tend to become rarer due to the demise of the artist. A sudden increase in prices usually only happens when an artist dies unexpectedly, in other cases of artists who passed away due to old age, this has already been factored in by the art market hence the firming up of prices of their artworks happens gradually over a period of time.
Why You Should Buy With ARTIANA
Widewalls: What does the FlexiPay bring to your buyers?
LJ: There are multiple benefits buyers can get through our FlexiPay – ‘Bid Now Pay Later’ scheme as long as the clients have been pre-approved for this facility.
All items offered in our auctions are eligible for deferred or installment payments under the installment scheme, which allows buyers to pay for artwork in installments ranging from 3 months to 24 months at a service charge of 1 percent a month, subject to paying a minimum 20 percent of the price as a down payment.
Buyers have access to a higher Loan-To-Value (LTV) ratio of up to 80% of our lower estimate value as compared with up to 60% of our appraised value on all external art assets with the arrangement fee of 2% of the advance amount waived for Buyers at our auctions.
Charges for evaluation, storage, and the conservator’s inspection report are complimentary for all ARTIANA clients.
Widewalls: How would you describe the process of gathering masterpieces of South Asian Art for an auction like this? What are the challenges? What is a must?
LJ: The biggest challenge is putting together a good selection of works for the catalogue, this is a combination of a treasure hunt and provenance checking on the shortlisted entries.
Another challenge is explaining to the prospective consignor that our one-sided 20% commission, which is deducted from the Winning Bid price is in effect actually less than them paying a lower sellers commission, and the auction houses then charging an additional 20-30% as Buyer’s Premium. In our case, the total transaction cost is reduced to almost half in comparison to our competitors. The usual response we hear is that the Buyer’s Premium is being paid by the Buyer for which we have to then explain that it still is part of the total price paid and usually all additional costs are factored in by prospective Buyers and their Bids are placed accordingly.
Whilst authenticity and quality are key to the items being offered, one has to make these works available at fair estimates, simultaneously meeting the sellers’ expectations.
Widewalls: What’s next for ARTIANA?
LJ: After our launch in March 2016, ARTIANA experienced a steady increase in sell-through rates through the years by maintaining our bi-annual South Asian sales and cementing our presence in the South Asian auction calendar.
With our expanding client base and continued diversification across collecting categories, clients can look forward to rare pieces and a wide range of artworks in our future auctions. After our inaugural international sale, Art Beyond Borders last March, we are planning to launch sales of Rugs and Carpets, Prints and Multiples, followed by an African Art auction in the latter part of the year.