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Celebrated painter MF Husain dies at 95

Jun 09, 2011 11:58 AM IST India India

New Delhi: India's best known artist Maqbool Fida Husain, who took Indian art to the global stage in a celebrated career that was also mired in controversies, died at the age of 95 early Thursday, in London.

The ebullient and eccentric barefoot-painter, known for his cubist-inspired modern art, died at the Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust at 2:30 am local time (0700 IST) in London after a month-long illness. He will be buried in London on Friday.

A Brompton spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that Mr M Husain was being treated at Royal Brompton Hospital and died here this morning."

Born on September 17, 1915 at Pandharpur, Maharashtra, Husain trained at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai and began his career painting film posters.

Popularly known as the 'Picasso of India' Husain was once a member of Rajya Sabha and had been decorated with nation's second highest award Padma Vibhushan. His works fetched astronomical sums at the recent Bonham's auctions - the highest for any Indian artist.

Husain's work shows the balance between the artist's cubist modern style of painting and Indian traditional sensibility and subject matter. He is best known for his paintings of horses - signifying power and grace.

His work usually incorporated many of the artist's most recognisable themes and symbols, traditional forms of ancient Indian miniatures, sculptures, dance and folk art in one frame.

The artist had become well-known in the late 1940s and joined the Progressive Artists' Group, founded by Francis Newton Souza in 1947. The group was formed to explore a new idiom for Indian art and was a clique of young artists wanting to break with the nationalist traditions established by the Bengal School of Art.

Husain was a special invitee along with Pablo Picasso at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1971. Synonymous with contemporary Indian art, the painter was described as the 'Pablo Picasso' of India by Forbes magazine.

In 1996 he courted controversy after his paintings of Hindu deities in the nude, originally painted in the 1970s, were interpreted as anti-Hindu. After eight legal cases and death threats in India, he was on a self imposed exile from 2006. In January, 2010, he was offered the citizenship of Qatar, which he accepted.

The painter courted controversy in his lifetime for hurting religious sentiments by painting "Mother India" as a naked woman. Husain's paintings have often depicted Hindu gods and goddesses in the nude, sparking criticism from nationalist parties and activists. His paintings on goddesses Durga and Saraswati invited the wrath of Hindu groups which attacked his house in 1998 and vandalised his art works.

Husain's work drew protests and several court cases were filed against the painter who lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London.

In the past Husain, a Muslim, has received support from moderate, progressive Hindus, and on one occasion a former prime minister intervened to ensure no action was taken against him.

He was honoured with the prestigious Padma Shree, Padma Bhushan and
Padma Vibhushan. He had also worked on a few films, including 'Gaja
Gamini' with his muse actress Madhuri Dixit who was the subject of a series of his paintings which he signed as Fida.

Auction house Christie's put out a statement saying: "We at Christie's are deeply saddened by the loss of a great master whose influence on Modern and Contemporary South Asian art is immeasurable.

"We are honoured to have borne witness to his genius through the works we have handled in sales and exhibitions. He was a great friend and inspiration to so many around the world. His leadership and contribution to the art world cannot be overstated and although we will miss him, he lives on forever in his art."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil joined political leaders, artists, intellectuals and Bollywood actors in condoling Husain's death. (With additional information from agencies)