M. F. Husain: Horses of the Sun

Past Exhibition

Maqbool Fida Husain (1913-2011) was a legendary figure in the history of Indian modernism.

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A founding member of the Progressive Artists Group, formed in Bombay in 1947, Husain played a leading role in revolutionising art in India by parting ways with the dominant genres of academic painting and miniaturist nostalgia.

When he died in London at the age of 98, his life had already traced an arc through one of the most cataclysmic yet vibrant centuries in human history. Husain lived through two World Wars, the Partition of the British Raj into the modern nation-states of India and Pakistan, the Cold War, Algeria and Vietnam, and conflicts in South and West Asia. His chosen media ranged from oil painting and watercolour, through lithography and serigraphy, to sculpture, architecture and installation. He was also a film-maker, poet and memoirist who wrote in Urdu, Hindi and English. 

Husain called himself a global nomad developing strong connections with the UK, the USA, Czechoslovakia, the Arab world in general, and Qatar in particular, which offered him refuge when adverse political circumstances forced him into exile from his beloved India. Three themes lie at the core of Husain’s art, and are reflected in this exhibition. First, the idea of home as a habitat remembered from childhood, shaped in the present, or discovered through exploration. Second, the human passion for creativity expressed in every society, period and discipline. Third, a pluralist approach to the divine and cosmic aspects of being, articulated through the myths, symbols and narratives of the world’s religions and philosophies. M. F. Husain: Horses of the Sun bears witness to this magisterial artist’s work across more than six decades; the title refers to a recurrent motif in his art, a personal symbol of self-renewal and vitality. 

Curator, Ranjit Hoskote

Assistant Curator, Wadha Al-Aqeedi

About the Artist

Long believed to have been born in 1915, recent records confirm that M. F. Husain was in fact born two years earlier, on 29 November 1913, in the Hindu pilgrimage town of Pandharpur. From an early age, he developed an interest in art and painting, especially calligraphy. He attended an art school in Indore, but was essentially a self-taught artist, moving to Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1930s, where he worked as a billboard painter for Indian cinema, as well as a designer of toys and children's nursery furniture. In 1947, Husain participated in the annual exhibition of the Bombay Art Society and won an award for his painting Sunehra Sansar (Golden World). This was the same year that the British Raj was divided into two independent nations, India and Pakistan, and Husain became a founding member of the influential Progressive Artists Group in Bombay.

Known for a visual language that emphasised the richness of Indian civilisation, Husain’s work engaged with the crises and triumphs of a society experiencing postcolonial transition; the deep cultural horizons of Indian rural life; the diversity of the world’s religions; and Hindu epics and mythological narratives. A strikingly versatile artist, his work ranged from painting to poetry, architecture and film. In 1967, he was honoured with a Golden Bear award for his short film Through the Eyes of a Painter at the Berlin International Film Festival. He participated in major regional and international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale, Italy (1952); Tokyo Biennial, Japan (1960); São Paulo Biennial, Brazil (1971); National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, India (1991); Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar (2008); and Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom (2014). On 9 June 2011, Husain died in London at the age of 98. His legacy continues today as a lasting contribution to the history of Indian modern art.