M. F. Husain (India)
1915 - 2011
Acquired from an important Mumbai based celebrity
Oil on Canvas
48 x 36 Inches
Engendering the Art
“My horses like lightning, cut across many horizons. Seldom their hooves are shown. They hop around the spaces. From the battlefield of “Karbala” to Baukura terracotta, from the Chinese Tse Pei Hung horse to St. Marco horse, from ornate armoured “Duldul” to challenging white of “Ashwamedh”… the cavalcade of my horses is multidimensional.”
Of the many themes in his vast repertoire of paintings, Husain’s “horses” would, most critics and art aficionados will agree, be the most famous and enduring. Not only did Husain’s horse theme paintings give him international acclaim and commercial success but also catapulted the painter into an elite league of superstar painters who spearheaded an individual style. Husain was a modernist and with his horse’s theme, he developed a foundation from which he modified his cubist style.
He painted the horses for the first time in the 1950s. The ’50s was an important time as many important art movements were started during this time. One of the most important being abstract expressionism.
The horse was a symbolic motif that inspired Husain for decades. He would be mesmerised by the horses of the Sung dynasty during a visit to China in 1952 where he also studied Tang pottery. He was inspired by a range of different things. Husain also met the painter Qi Baishi, on that trip. Baishi was an artist famous for the rush of minimalism in line and form to achieve the image of movement. Husain used this to create his horse motif which had greater complexity.
Upon a trip to Italy, he was strongly attracted by Blaue Reiter artist Franz Marc’s work and by Marino Marini’s sculptures of horses “with its balance between horizontal and vertical lines to achieve a feeling of solitary and monumental anguish.”
Husain was particularly interested in painting horses with figures. At first, he was not satisfied with his compositions. He wanted to create more than an outer form. He imagined the movement and power of the horses and continued to fine-tune his compositions adding greater amounts of impasto to either richly contrasted vibrant coloured canvases or a palette of earthy tones.
The use of man and animal is a fluid theme in this oeuvre. One critic noted: “Husain’s horses are proud, powerful and valiant often matching or even overpowering the human figures they are opposing.”
They are postured in different poses of movement: galloping, heads tilted, elongated necks.
There is an anecdote that Husain’s preoccupation with horses stems from his childhood during Muharram when the religious mourned the death of Imam Husain the Prophet’s son. He saw effigies of Imam Husain’s faithful horse in a street procession. In Fact, Husain visited Iraq in 1965 where he went to Karbala, to witness the battleground upon which Imam Husayn fell. This was a time of deep spiritual contemplation for Husain. During the mid to late 1960s. Daniel Herwitz notes: Husain's “horses now appear riderless, without the accompanying light-bodied female figures, and are frequently transfixed by arrows.”
You can see the influences of his travels abroad and his own experience as a cartoonist in his paintings. Husain never went to JJ School of Art as he could not afford it so worked as a billboard artist in the 40s and ’50s. In this painting, you can see the signature Husain style of bold strokes, monochromatic canvas, heavy use of impasto. This painting uses the calligraphic brushwork in tones of gold, browns, rusts and ochres.
According to E. Alkazi, horses are usually recognized as symbols of the sun and knowledge. They are associated with life-giving and sustaining forces. Husain’s horses have become “a vehicle for multiple utterances — aggression, power and protection.”