M. F. Husain: The Picasso of India

Saurav Singh

M. F. Husain (17 September 1915 – 9 June 2011), was a renowned Indian artist. He was also known as Maqbool Fida Husain one of the most revered artists of the 20th Century. Though his credibility in the field of art, movie making is rarely unknown to any, he spends some of his time as a parliamentarian. He was a member of the upper house from 12 May 1986 – 11 May 1992. His biography written by Akhilesh “Maqbool” is the most appreciated book published by Rajkamal Prakashan New Delhi.

Life and Career

He was born on 17 September 1915 in Pandharpur, Maharashtra. His primary education was initiated in a Madrasa. Art and painting were the core of him from his childhood. While studying in a Madrasa in Baroda, he learned calligraphy. He learnt the art by practising on his own. While growing up in Indore, he was fascinated by two large portraits of Maharaja Yashwantrao Holkar and his wife, made by the French painter Brancusi. He would look at them animatedly for hours and dream to make better than that.

Early in his career, merely at an age of 15, Husain painted cinema posters in Mumbai. To earn additional income, he worked for a toy company designing and building toys. He often travelled to Gujarat to paint landscapes whenever he could afford to travel.

Path in Art

He was one of the founding members of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group.  In 1947, Husain won a prize at the annual Bombay Art Society exhibition. The same year Francis Newton Souza invited him to join the Progressive Artists’ Group. The aim of this group was to break from the shackles of the more traditional styles of painting predominant in the pre-Independence era. The group — whose founding members were Souza, Husain, Syed Haider Raza, Krishna Hawlaji Ara, Hari Amba Das Gade and S. Bakre — largely succeeded in its mission, giving new energy and purpose to Indian art.

Husain’s first solo art exhibition was in 1952 in Zürich. His first U.S. exhibit was at India House in New York City in 1964.  Husain was a special invitee along with Pablo Picasso at the São Paulo Biennial, Brazil in 1971. In 1967, he received the National Film Award for Best Experimental Film for Through the Eyes of a Painter. In 2004, he directed Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities, a film he worked on with his artist son Owais Husain, which was screened in the Marché du film section of the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Despite numerous accolades and recognition around the globe, his life in India was surrounded by numerous controversies. He died on 9 June 2011 in London, England.

Awards and Legacy

In 1955, he was awarded with the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of India. In 1973 and 1991, he received the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan, the third and second highest civilian award of India respectively.