Hussain one of India’s most gifted artists, is an accomplished painter mostly famous for his paintings on Indian women and also for his habit of getting into controversies. With a career spanning several decades, this multi-faceted artist has made significant contributions in other fields also- as a director, photographer and member of the Indian Parliament etc.
M.F. Hussain was born in Pandharpur, Madhya Pradesh on September 17, 1915 to mother Zunaib and father Fida. His mother died when he was three years old. His father remarried and the family moved to Indore where he did his primary education. His association with painting began at an early age- he learnt the art of calligraphy and practiced the Kulfic Khat with its geometric forms. He also learnt to write poetry. At 20 years of age he moved to Mumbai, determined to become an artist and joined Sir J. J. School of Arts for one year.
In 1937, he started his career painting cinema hoardings for a livelihood. He had a tough time initially, but as the earning got better he visited Surat, Baroda and Ahmedabad to paint landscapes. He also tried his luck in other jobs and the best paid job was at a toy factory, where he designed and built fretwork toys. In between, Hussain got married to Fazila in the year 1941 and they had two daughters Raisa and Aqueela and three sons, Mustafa, a restaurateur and Shamshad and Owais, both painters themselves.
Hussain’s painting ‘Sunhera Sansaar’ at the1947 annual exhibition of the Bombay Art Society won an award and marked his entry as a known artist. In 1946, Francis Newton Souzah invited him to join Bombay Progressive Artists Group, a group formed to explore a new idiom for Indian art. This exposed Hussain to the works of Emil Nolde and Oskar Kokoschka and made a strong influence, which led him to make some remarkable works ‘Re Between The Spider And The Lamp’, ‘Zameen and Man’ etc. He then visited Delhi, where he encountered ancient Mathura sculpture and Indian miniature paintings. This was a turning point of his career as an artist as he assimilated ideas from Western and Indian art.
His series of all over India exhibitions during the period 1948 to 1950 made him a publicly known artist. He conducted his first solo exhibition in Mumbai in1952. In 1954, he was nominated as an eminent artist by the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi. The following year he won the national award at the Lalit Kala Akademi’s first national exhibition.
M.F. Hussain has participated in many international shows which include Contemporary Indian Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1982; Six Indian Painters, Tate Gallery, London 1985; Modern Indian Painting, Hirschhom Museum, Washington 1986 and Contemporary Indian Art, Grey Art Gallery, New York 1986. Along with several solo exhibitions he had major retrospectives in Zurich (Galerie Palette) and Prague (Manes) in 1956, Frankfurt (Kunst-Kabinet) and Rome ( 1960), Tokyo(1961), Mumbai (1969), Calcutta (1973) and Delhi (1978). His work was exhibited at the Salon de Mai in Paris (1951), the Venice biennales (1953, 1955), Tokyo Biennale (1959 where he won the International Biennale Award), the São Paulo biennales in1959 and in 1971 where he was invited to exhibit alongside Pablo Picasso. His work was first shown in the USA at India House, New York, in 1964. He has also had exhibitions of photography and in 1984 in Hannover, he exhibited works on plexiglass.
Besides painting, Hussain has also made a film ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’ in 1967 which went on to win the Golden Bear Award in Berlin Film Festival. He has made several short films since then. On account of his immense contribution to Indian art, the Government of India honoured him with the Padmashree in 1966, Padma BhushanAward in 1973 and the Padma Vibhushan award in 1989, all prestigious civilian awards. He was nominated to the upper house of the Indian Parliament, the Rajya Sabha in 1987; and during his six year term he produced the Sansad Portfolio.
In a span of several years, Hussain has done a series of paintings on several subjects including the British Raj, on major cities such as Calcutta, Benares, Rome, Beijing; on the Epics- Mahabharata and Ramayana; a whole series on Mother Teresa, on the major nine religions of the world and a series on horses. A big mural of his, around 40 feet high called the Portrait of the 20th Century depicts all the major personalities of arts, science, dance, literature, politics etc. Husain’s most interesting paintings of the 90’s is the series named after Madhuri Dixit, a well known cine artist in Hindi cinema. He saw her film ‘Hum Aapke Hai Kaun.’ 67 times and painted a whole series of paintings on her, and even directed her in a film ‘Gaja Gamini’. Hussain became the talk of the town for his open fascination with Madhuri Dixit. Subsequently, he made another film ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities‘ with Tabu, another cine artist.
Recently Hussain was arrested and charged with hurting sentiments of people following his controversial nude paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses. The court ordered that the artist’s should have freedom of expression, but with a limit of un hurting the sentiments of the people.
This talented artist rose to international fame from a humble beginning and now has become the highest paid painter in India. His single canvases have fetched up to 2 million dollars. Described by Forbes magazine as ‘the Picasso of India’, Hussain, the immensely popular artist now lives and works in Bombay and remains a central figure in the contemporary Indian art scene.
Maqbool Fida Husain died in a London hospital at 2.30 am on Thursday 09 June 2011, according to reports from UK.