Masters on the Market: Maqbool Fida Husain

Rashika Chauhan
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A Journey of Art, Fame, and Controversies Through the Works of India’s Most Celebrated Artist 

Portrait of celebrated Indian Cubist artist, Maqbool Fida Husain (M. F. Husain), by Yanko Tihov. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.
Portrait of celebrated Indian Cubist artist, Maqbool Fida Husain (M. F. Husain), by Yanko Tihov. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

In 2006, Maqbool Fida Husain was forced to leave his home country of India. Despite his claims that he moved to Qatar to finish a project, rumors suggested that he did so because of the several lawsuits filed against him by the Indian government for creating nude paintings of Indian goddesses. The artist was criticized as heretical for hurting religious sentiments, and he never settled the lawsuits. 

Born in 1915, Maqbool Fida Husain (also addressed as M. F. Husain) was one of the most globally acclaimed Indian artists of all time. Forbes hailed him as the “Pablo Picasso” of India. He was also the founding member of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group. Husain’s works, which used a blend of European Cubism and classical Indian styles, attracted honors and accolades from socialites, government, and critics alike, accompanied by an entourage of controversies. His first solo exhibition in London had to be closed prematurely because of vandalism ignited in protest of Husain’s paintings of nude Hindu deities.

On September 22nd, 2021, Christie’s will present a selection of paintings by Maqbool Fida Husain in its South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art auction. This sale is part of the auction house’s fall Asia Week. The catalog showcases nine notable paintings by Husain.

Maqbool Fida Husain, Bharat Mata (Mother India), after the 1947 partition of India. Image courtesy of The Guardian.
Maqbool Fida Husain, Bharat Mata (Mother India), after the 1947 partition of India. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

Husain’s deep-rooted connection to Indian culture directly inspired the subjects of his paintings. Husain had a life-long relationship with Gujarat because of family ties. Several of his paintings reflect this cultural and emotional bond. The city of Mumbai brought his career break, though his first job was as a cinema poster painter. He visited towns of interest to explore, travel barefoot, and capture things that fascinated him.

In the 95 years of his life and over 40,000 paintings, Husain captured not just horses, urban landscapes, Bollywood actors, and nude goddesses. He also managed to capture the essence of the highly transitional cultural decades of India. Beyond the controversies, many of Husain’s works were internationally recognized and sought by collectors.

Maqbool Fida Husain, Dancing Ganesha, 1989. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Maqbool Fida Husain, Dancing Ganesha, 1989. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

In March of 2021, Christie’s sold one of Husain’s paintings titled Horses, estimated at USD 700,000 to $900,000, for $1,035,000. The use of horses as subjects was inspired by Husain’s own life and travels. He admired Greek culture and the portrayal of horses as a symbol of strength and sophistication. Many of Husain’s works glorified equine figures to champion mythology and history stories. The upcoming Christie’s auction will offer an untitled horses painting by Husain. Painted in the 1960s, the artwork has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.

Maqbool Fida Husain, Untitled (Horses), c. 1960s. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Maqbool Fida Husain, Untitled (Horses), c. 1960s. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

Maqbool Fida Husain breathed his last on June 9th, 2011, in London. The value of his paintings has picked up momentum ever since. His work frequently appears in international exhibitions at key galleries. Museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, house works by the celebrated though controversial artist. 

To explore rare works by Maqbool Fida Husain and other noted South Asian artists in the market, visit Christie’s. View the full list of upcoming Asia week auctions here

Interested in other headlines from around the auction world? Check out Auction Daily’s news page for the latest. 

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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