MF Husain: From Four Annas To A Million Dollars | Firstpost

MF Husain: From four annas to a million dollars

FP Editors Jun 9,
2011

Artist Maqbool Fida Husain, born September 17, 1915, died at a London
hospital of a heart attack today, June 9. He was 95 years old. Described by Forbes magazine as the Picasso of India, he was
widely celebrated as a flamboyant, prolific and prodigiously talented artist in
“bare feet and Hermès suits.”

Early life

A self-taught artist, Husain was born in Pandharpur, Maharashtra. He learned
calligraphy and the art of al-khat al-Kufi (Kufi script) from an early
age. Left motherless at infancy, he lived with his uncle in a madrasa in Baroda,
where he dabbled in poetry and painting, and would often strap “his
painting gear to his bicycle and drive out to the surrounding countryside of
Indore to paint the landscape.

In 1937, at the age of 20, he arrived in Mumbai, penniless and determined to
become a painter. Studying at the J J School of Arts, he “lived in a cheap room
in a by-lane inhabited by pimps and prostitutes,” and earned his living by
painting cinema hoardings. Reminiscing of his early days. Husain said, “We were
paid barely four or six annas per square foot. That is, for a 6×10 feet canvas,
we earned a few rupees… As soon as I earned a little bit I used to take off for
Surat, Baroda and Ahmedabad to paint landscapes.”

Rise to fame

MF Husain

In his early days MF Husain, who
made a living by painting cinema hoardings, was paid barely four or six annas.
In 2008, his work Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12 fetched $1.6
million, setting a world record at Christie’s South Asian Modern and
Contemporary Art sale. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Husain caught the eye of experimental artist Francis Newton Souza when he won
an award by the Bombay Art society, and soon joined the Progressive Artists’
Group. He never looked back. A well-known painter by 1955, he attained wide
international acclaim which culminated in a special invitation to – alongside
Pablo Picasso – to the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1971.

At the time of his death, he was the highest paid Indian artist. Some of the
most often cited sales include his Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata
12
, which fetched USD 1.6 million in 2008, setting a world record at
Christie’s South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale. A recent sale this month of three paintings at a Bonham’s
auction in London sold for Rs 2.32 crore, with an untitled oil work – combining
his signature figures of horse and woman — fetching Rs 1.23 crore.

In India, his talent earned him the Padma Bhushan in 1973, the Padma
Vibhushan in 1989, and a nomination to the Rajya Sabha in 1986.

Muse in the movies

Husain’s early brush with the film industry as a young man was just the first
of a lifelong association with the movies. In 1967, he made his first film,
Through the Eyes of a Painter which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin
Film Festival, and then went on to direct experimental movies like Gaja
Gamini
featuring his actress muse Madhuri Dixit and Meenaxi: A Tale of
Three Cities
with Tabu.

Husain’s name often surfaces in the gossip items touting his rumoured
fascination with one female celebrity or the other. His ‘favourites’ have ranged
from the likes of Vidya Balan to Mother Teresa. Shobhaa De tweeted of his
reaction to Band Baaja Baraat: “M.F.Husain is in love again! At
101.With Anoushka Sharma!! He called frm Dubai to say he has watched BBB over 10
times thinks she is amazing!”

Controversies

In 2006, Husain’s painting Bharatmata depicting Mother
India
in the form of a nude woman enraged Hindu groups. But this wasn’t
Husain’s first brush with controversy.

He had courted Hindu ire earlier for portraying Durga and
Saraswati in the nude and in the company of animals in 1996. His house
was attacked and his studio vandalised. At the time, Husain remained unruffled
and optimistic. “Controversies make life more interesting,” he told the
Times of India, “Such events are minor ripples in the ocean of Indian
art and culture. … I prefer to consider it as an ‘agnipariksha‘. Only
time will tell whether modern art survives such tests.”

The furore surrounding Bharatmata a decade later would prove him
wrong. The painting was withdrawn from the public eye following protests and
criminal complaints filed against Husain in Indore and Rajkot courts. Death
threats soon followed: The Hindu Personal Law Board announced a Rs 51-crore
reward for beheading him; a local leader in Gujarat promised 1 kg of gold to
anyone who gouged out his eyes.

But he did not just upset Hindus. Muslim ulemas protested his use of
Quranic verses to honor the heroine instead of God in a song in the film
Meenaxi.

Worried about his safety, Husain moved to Dubai in 2005, and since then
remained mostly in exile. But in various media interviews, he had rarely been
either apologetic or bitter. “I have painted my canvases — including those of
gods and goddesses— with deep love and conviction, and in celebration. If in
doing that, I have hurt anyone’s feelings, I am sorry. That is all. I do not
love art less, I love humanity more,” he told Tehelka in 2008. “India is a completely unique
country. Liberal. Diverse. There is nothing like it in the world. This mood in
the country is just a historical process. For me, India means a celebration of
life. You cannot find that same quality anywhere in the world.”

In January, 2010, he was offered and accepted the citizenship of Qatar and
surrendered his Indian passport. At the time, fellow artist, Anjolie Ela Menon
observed, “This is not the first time we have thrown away our geniuses. In
India, we recognise our national treasures only when they are gone.” Words that
will likely ring bitterly true to his many fans on this sad day.

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