Maqbool Fida Husain


Husain Man Peabody Essex Museum 1500
  • Maqbool Fida Husain
  • Man
  • 1951
  • Wood, metal, masonite, oil
  • 126.4 x 248.9 x 1 cm
  • Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, USA Gift of the Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection, 2001 E301146

Hopeful in its modernism and bold in its deconstruction of the human figure, Maqbool Fida Husain’s Man (1951) uses a post-cubist style to describe a heroic philosophical figure surrounded by chaos. A Muslim artist in Hindu-majority India, Husain was originally a painter of billboard advertisements for Bollywood movies. Like many commercial artists, he painted Man with a kind of expediency of layers, beginning with various base coats and building the work through a decisive overlay of colors. This painting also references the expansive dimensions of the billboard, albeit at a reduced scale. Husain was a leading member of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, which aimed to develop a distinctly Indian avant-garde, based on European modernism, but with an internationalist ambition. In this work he uses icons of Indian imagery to reflect the jubilance and uncertainty of the newly independent India.

Here Husain includes masked dancing folk figures, naked female bodies, and the image of the sacred cow. Aside from the use of black, the painting is mostly executed in the colors of the Indian national flag. Sitting crouched in contemplation, the heroic form of the central figure, who appears to hold a painting of two nude women, may be an avatar for Husain himself. While the figures around him suggest a swirl of activity, their rectangular borders suggest canvases in an artist’s studio. Surrounded by the chaos of the new India or the controlled chaos of the studio, Husain’s thinker gazes thoughtfully outward.

Gemma Sharpe

Biography of Maqbool Fida Husain

  • Born 1915 in Pandharpur, India
  • Died 2011 in London, UK
One of the best-known Indian modernists, Maqbool Fida Husain drew from different Indian cultural sources to create his narrative paintings. His inspirations include Hindu and other religious figures, the vibrant color and action of festivals, historical events, dance, and the daily lives of contemporary Indians. Husain studied calligraphy in Baroda, but was primarily self-taught. In 1935, he began painting billboard advertisements for Bollywood movies. Husain mounted his first exhibition in 1947 at the Bombay Art Society. After the Partition of India and Pakistan later that year, Husain co-founded the Progressive Artists Group. In the early 1950s Husain traveled to Europe, where he had a solo show in Zurich in 1952 and was deeply influenced by meeting Paul Klee (1879–1940) and other Cubist masters. Husain’s short film Through the Eyes of a Painter won a Golden Bear in the 1967 Berlin International Film Festival. In 1971 he was a special invitee (along with Pablo Picasso, 1881–1973) to the Bienal de São Paulo. Husain won the national awards Padma Shri (1966), Padma Bhushan (1973), and Padma Vibhushan (1991). However, the artist was criticized in India for his satirical representation of religious figures. Death threats and lawsuits by Hindu extremists led to Husain’s permanent departure from India in 2006.