Kobra

His own work of that time celebrates the experience and the sensation of love, while mourning the loss of love that he could already see ahead [...] Husain painted musicians and dancers, horses and bathers, nudes and lovers. (R. Bartholomew & S. Kapur, Maqbool Fida Husain, New York, 1972, p. 41)

When this work by M.F. Husain was first published in the seminal 1972 Abrams catalogue on Husain, the illustration depicted this work before it was finished, before it was even signed and Bartholomew and Kapur, the book's authors, attributed the title 'Lesbians'. This fully realized version of the work signed and titled Kobra thematically and formally suggests classical Greek mythology. These two Amazonian women conjoin in classical contraposto suggesting warriors as much as lovers. The figure on the left brandishes an abstracted shield which almost organically protrudes from her protracted limbs. "Even if the figures are not in motion, the curvilinear forms, their stances, the rhythmic lines, the use of paint are all employed with a sense of urgency and create a feeling of exuberance which is typical of him [Husain] and his personality." (P. Sen, 'The Figure in Indian Art', Lalit Kala Contemporary 17, Delhi, 1974, p. 11)

Though Husain depicts these woman embraced in ensemble, they also appear fractured and somehow removed from each other. "Husain's nudes of this period are abstractions, occasionally tender but for the most part curiously aloof and impersonal. They invite, more than anything else, reflection on the lack of communication between individuals even at their most intimate. They do not communicate the warmth or sensation of sex."(R. Bartholomew & S. Kapur, Maqbool Fida Husain, New York, 1972, p. 42) These classical warrior women, stripped down to their basic formal elements are charged with an energy beyond sexuality and sensuality, which harks back to hallowed antiquity.

Signature: signed in Hindi and Urdu and dated '68' (lower left); bearing sticker 'KOBRA / OIL, 50 x 40 / CNN' (on the reverse)

R. Bartholemew and S. Kapur, Husain, New York, 1972, pl. 167 (illustrated)

Christie's New York, 20 September 2006, lot 35

About Maqbool Fida Husain

A controversial artist known for narrative paintings done in a flat, Cubist style, Maqbool Fida Husain is regarded by some as the Picasso of India. A member of the Bombay Progressive Arts Group, Husain sought to create a modern Indian art form for the newly freed nation of India. Threatened and criticized by Hindu nationalist groups for his treatment of such sensitive subject matter as nude Hindu goddesses, the artist entered into a self-imposed exile. Self-taught, he painted Indian themes in the style of contemporary European artists, most notably Paul Klee. Husain’s depictions of historic figures, rural and urban Indian life, and religious iconography grew increasingly experimental over his lifetime, culminating with an unfinished series of triptychs, “Indian Civilization,” which pays tribute to Indian history and reveals Husain’s own personal mythology.

Indian, 1915-2011, Pandharpur, India, based in London, United Kingdom

Exhibition Highlights On Artsy

2016
Masterpieces of Indian Modern Art, Dag Modern, New York
2016
Mysteries of the Organism, AkaraArt, Mumbai
2014
M.F. Husain: Master of Modern Indian Painting, Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)