June 9, 2011 saw the passing of one of India’s premier contemporary artists, Maqbool Fida (M.F.) Husain (1915-2011). Husain was born in Pandharpur, Maharashtra, but moved to Bombay in 1937, where he gained a meager salary from, among other things, painting cinema hoardings (hand-painted billboards advertising films). Inspired by the exhibitions he saw in Bombay, he dedicated his life to painting, and joined the Bombay Progressive Artists Group in 1947. By the 1950s, he had gained an international reputation, not only receiving awards in his native country, but also having his works displayed in such prestigious venues as the Salon de Mai in Paris (1951), the Venice Biennale (1953 and 1955) and the Tokyo Biennale (1959).
A Muslim by birth, Husain was nevertheless inspired by ancient Hindu art, and frequently took Hindu subjects for his paintings, of which Vishnu on Garuda, on view in this exhibition, is an example. He was equally interested in European painting styles, including the work of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. Although he was recognized by the Indian government, his depictions of nude Hindu deities drew considerable controversy, resulting in lawsuits and death threats that forced him to leave India in 2006, and eventually to become a citizen of Qatar. He died in London, where he is buried.
In honor of Husain's contributions to the international artistic community, works by him and two other contemporary Indian artists, the painter A. Ramachandran (b. 1935) and the sculptor P. V. Janakiram (born 1930) will be on display in the Jhamandas Watumull Gallery of Indian Art.