M.F. Husain

M.F. Husain: A Stalwart of Indian Modern Art

Maqbool Fida Husain, popularly known as M.F. Husain, stands as one of the most celebrated and controversial figures in the realm of Indian modern art. Born on September 17, 1915, in Pandharpur, Maharashtra, Husain’s journey as an artist traversed through various phases, leaving an indelible mark on the canvas of Indian art history. His prolific career spanned several decades, marked by a distinctive style, a deep connection with Indian culture, and a tumultuous relationship with controversies that accompanied his art. This article by Academic Block aims to delve into the life, art, and legacy of M.F. Husain, exploring the intricacies of his work and the complexities of his persona.

Early Life and Formative Years:

M.F. Husain’s early life was rooted in the cultural milieu of India, a factor that profoundly influenced his artistic sensibilities. Raised in an environment steeped in tradition, he developed an early fascination with the world of art. His journey began as a self-taught artist, honing his skills by sketching on the streets of Bombay (now Mumbai). The city’s vibrant life and diverse cultures served as a rich tapestry that would later find expression in his art.

Husain’s formal art education began at the J.J. School of Art in Bombay, where he experimented with various styles and techniques. His early works reflected a keen interest in the folk and tribal art forms of India, laying the foundation for the fusion of traditional and modern elements that would define his later oeuvre.

The Progressive Artists’ Group:

The 1940s witnessed the emergence of the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) in Bombay, a collective of artists that aimed to break away from the academic traditions and embrace a more contemporary, global aesthetic. M.F. Husain was a founding member of this group, alongside luminaries like F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, and K.H. Ara. The PAG played a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of modern art in India, drawing inspiration from Western modernism while incorporating elements of Indian culture.

Husain’s association with the PAG marked a crucial phase in his artistic evolution. His early works, influenced by Cubism and Expressionism, showcased a distinct departure from conventional artistic norms. One of his notable paintings from this period is the iconic “Zameen” series, which depicted the rural landscapes of India with a unique blend of abstraction and vivid colors.

The Cinematic Connection:

M.F. Husain’s creative pursuits extended beyond the canvas to the realm of Indian cinema. His foray into filmmaking, particularly through his association with the film industry in the 1960s, showcased his multidimensional artistic talents. He directed and produced films like “Through the Eyes of a Painter” and “Gaja Gamini,” the latter being a tribute to the woman as the eternal muse.

Husain’s cinematic endeavors provided a platform for his artistic expressions to transcend traditional boundaries. His films, much like his paintings, were marked by a unique visual language that blended the classical with the contemporary, making a profound impact on the cultural landscape of India.

The Iconic Horse Motif:

One of the most recognizable motifs in M.F. Husain’s body of work is the recurring image of the horse. The horse, a symbol of power, vitality, and grace, became a leitmotif that traversed through various phases of his career. Whether rendered in a semi-abstract form or as a more figurative representation, the horse became an emblematic element in Husain’s artistic vocabulary.

Husain’s fascination with the horse was not merely aesthetic but carried deeper cultural connotations. The horse, deeply rooted in Indian mythology and history, served as a metaphor for the artist’s exploration of identity and tradition in a rapidly changing world. The horse, with its dynamic energy and timeless appeal, became a vehicle for Husain to convey the essence of movement and continuity in his art.

Controversies and Challenges:

While M.F. Husain’s artistic prowess earned him acclaim, it also brought him face to face with controversies. The most notable among these was the series of controversies surrounding his depictions of Hindu deities, particularly his paintings of Goddess Saraswati and Mother India. These works sparked vehement protests from certain sections of society, accusing Husain of blasphemy and hurting religious sentiments.

The controversies led to legal challenges, with cases filed against the artist for allegedly promoting enmity between different groups and for insulting religious beliefs. The ensuing debates raised questions about artistic freedom, censorship, and the delicate balance between creativity and cultural sensitivities.

Husain, in the face of these challenges, chose self-imposed exile and lived in various countries, including Qatar and the United Kingdom. Despite the controversies, he remained unapologetic about his artistic choices, defending his right to artistic expression. The incidents, however, left a deep impact on him and fueled discussions about the boundaries of artistic freedom in a diverse and culturally rich society like India.

Major Works of M.F Husain

1. The “Zameen” Series (1948-1951): This series marked a crucial phase in Husain’s career and reflected his fascination with the Indian landscape. The paintings, characterized by bold colors and geometric shapes, portrayed rural scenes, capturing the essence of the Indian countryside.

  1. The “Gaja Gamini” Series (1970s): Inspired by the enigmatic beauty of actress Madhuri Dixit, the “Gaja Gamini” series showcased Husain’s experimentation with narrative forms. The paintings depict various stages of a woman’s life, exploring themes of femininity, mythology, and the eternal muse.

  2. The “Mahabharata” Series (1971-1972): This series was a monumental undertaking, with Husain creating a vast collection of paintings inspired by the Indian epic, Mahabharata. Each canvas in the series captured a moment or character from the epic, blending traditional storytelling with contemporary artistic expression.

  3. The “British Raj” Series (1970s-1990s): Reflecting his interest in historical and political themes, the “British Raj” series depicted scenes from India’s colonial past. The paintings, often characterized by a blend of symbolism and realism, offered a critical commentary on the impact of British rule on Indian society.

  4. The “Mother Teresa” Series (1980s): In admiration of Mother Teresa’s humanitarian work, Husain created a series of paintings that paid tribute to the Nobel laureate. These works captured the essence of compassion and selflessness, showcasing Husain’s ability to convey complex emotions through his art.

  5. The “Indian Civilization” Series (2008): In his later years, Husain created the “Indian Civilization” series, a monumental project that aimed to encapsulate the essence of India’s cultural and historical heritage. The series featured a diverse range of subjects, from ancient civilization to contemporary life, providing a panoramic view of India’s rich tapestry.

  6. The Horse Motif: The horse became a recurring motif in Husain’s work, evolving over the years. Whether represented in a semi-abstract form or as a more figurative element, the horse symbolized vitality, power, and movement. This motif became synonymous with Husain’s artistic identity and is a recurring theme in many of his paintings.

  7. “Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12” (1971): This monumental painting is part of Husain’s Mahabharata series and captures the intense and climactic battle between the two rivers, Ganga and Jamuna. The dynamic composition and vivid colors convey the epic scale of the conflict.

  8. “Between the Spider and the Lamp” (1956): This early masterpiece exemplifies Husain’s exploration of existential themes. The painting, featuring a spider and a lamp, is open to interpretation, inviting viewers to contemplate the complexities of life and existence.

  9. “Hindustan Ki Gatha” (1987-1988): This series, translating to “The Saga of Hindustan,” explores the socio-political landscape of India. Through vibrant and detailed canvases, Husain delves into India’s history, culture, and the challenges it faces, providing a thought-provoking commentary on the nation’s identity.

Legacy and Recognition:

M.F. Husain’s legacy extends beyond the canvas, encompassing his role as a cultural icon and a trailblazer in Indian art. His contributions were recognized both nationally and internationally, with numerous awards and honors bestowed upon him. He received the prestigious Padma Shri in 1955, the Padma Bhushan in 1973, and the Padma Vibhushan in 1991, among other accolades.

The global art community acknowledged Husain’s significance through exhibitions and retrospectives hosted in renowned galleries and museums. His works were featured in major art events, including the Venice Biennale, showcasing the universal appeal of his artistic vision.

The M.F. Husain Art Gallery in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, stands as a testament to his enduring influence on Indian art. The gallery houses a substantial collection of his paintings, providing art enthusiasts and scholars with a comprehensive insight into the evolution of his style and themes.

Final Words

M.F. Husain’s journey as an artist is a tapestry woven with threads of tradition, innovation, controversy, and resilience. His art transcended geographical boundaries, weaving together the rich tapestry of Indian culture with the brushstrokes of modernism. The controversies that surrounded him opened up important dialogues about artistic freedom, cultural sensitivities, and the evolving dynamics of a pluralistic society.

In this article by Academic Block, as we reflect on the life and work of M.F. Husain, we encounter a complex and multifaceted artist whose legacy continues to inspire, provoke, and challenge. His ability to navigate the intersection of tradition and modernity, his fearless pursuit of artistic expression, and his unwavering commitment to the transformative power of art ensure that M.F. Husain remains an enduring figure in the annals of Indian art history. Please provide your comments below. Thanks for reading!

Controversies related to M.F. Husain

Depiction of Hindu Deities: One of the most prominent and enduring controversies surrounding Husain was related to his paintings depicting Hindu deities, particularly Goddess Saraswati and Mother India. Some groups and individuals took offense, accusing him of disrespecting and hurting religious sentiments.

Legal Challenges and Cases: Various legal cases were filed against M.F. Husain in India for allegedly promoting enmity between different groups and for insulting religious beliefs. The artist faced multiple lawsuits and legal challenges, which led to a prolonged period of legal battles.

Threats and Protests: The controversies led to protests and demonstrations by certain religious and cultural groups, demanding a ban on Husain’s artworks. Some extreme elements issued threats against the artist, and his exhibitions faced disruptions and violence.

Self-Imposed Exile: In the face of mounting controversies, legal challenges, and personal threats, M.F. Husain chose self-imposed exile. He lived in various countries, including Qatar and the United Kingdom, avoiding a return to India due to concerns for his safety and the ongoing legal issues.

Cultural Sensitivity Debate: The controversies sparked a wider debate on the balance between artistic freedom and cultural sensitivity. Advocates for artistic freedom argued that artists should be free to explore and express their creativity without fear of censorship, while opponents stressed the need to respect religious sentiments and cultural symbols.

Criticism and Support: While Husain faced criticism from certain sections of society, he also received support from the artistic community, intellectuals, and advocates of free speech. Many argued that art should be allowed to push boundaries and challenge societal norms, even if it involves reinterpreting cultural and religious symbols.

Impact on Personal Life: The controversies had a profound impact on M.F. Husain’s personal life. The legal battles and societal backlash affected his ability to live and work in India freely, leading to a prolonged period of separation from his home country and family.

Dialogue on Artistic Freedom: The controversies surrounding Husain prompted a broader conversation on the limits of artistic freedom in India. The incidents raised questions about the role of censorship, the rights of artists to express themselves, and the need for a nuanced approach to cultural and religious sensitivity.

Legacy and Posthumous Recognition: Despite the controversies, M.F. Husain’s contributions to Indian art were eventually acknowledged and celebrated. His legacy continues to inspire discussions on the intersection of art, culture, and societal norms.

Maqbool Fida Husain
Personal Details
Date of Birth : 17th September 1915
Died : 9th June 2011
Place of Birth : Pandharpur, Maharashtra, India
Father : Fida Husain
Mother : Zunaib Husain
Spouse/Partner : Maria F. Husain
Children : Shamshad, Maqbool, Mustafa, Owais, Raisa, and Akeela
Professions : Painter

Famous quotes by M.F. Husain

“Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.”

“The only time I faced a blank canvas, I was terrified. Terrified, because I had nothing to say.”

“The canvas is a question mark and the artist is the answer to that question.”

“Art for me is an expression and above all, a quest for joy.”

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.”

“I paint for myself. I don’t know how to do anything else, anyway. Also, I have to earn my living, and occupy myself.”

“An artist should be like a child who constantly seeks novelty and who, as he grows old, discovers with new eyes.”

“I don’t differentiate between any medium. For me, the canvas and the screen are the same.”

“An artist dies twice—once when he stops painting, and again when he dies physically. The physical death is beyond our control, but the death when he stops painting is within his reach.”

“Art is a process of liberation. It is not what you see but what you make others see.”

Facts on M.F. Husain

Birth and Early Years: M.F. Husain was born on September 17, 1915, in Pandharpur, Maharashtra, India. His early interest in art led him to sketch on the streets of Bombay (now Mumbai), where he honed his skills as a self-taught artist.

Formal Art Education: Husain attended the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay, where he received formal training in art. However, he was known to be a non-conformist and often experimented with different styles.

Founding Member of the Progressive Artists’ Group: In 1947, Husain was one of the founding members of the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) in Bombay, a collective of artists that aimed to break away from traditional art forms and embrace more contemporary, global styles.

Multifaceted Talent: Apart from painting, Husain ventured into filmmaking and directed films such as “Through the Eyes of a Painter” (1967) and “Gaja Gamini” (2000). His involvement in cinema showcased his multidimensional artistic talents.

The Horse Motif: The horse became a recurring motif in Husain’s works, symbolizing power, vitality, and movement. It became synonymous with his artistic identity and is featured prominently in many of his paintings.

International Recognition: M.F. Husain gained international acclaim, with his works being exhibited in major art galleries and museums around the world. He participated in prestigious events like the Venice Biennale, solidifying his reputation on the global art stage.

Awards and Honors: He received several awards in recognition of his contributions to art, including the Padma Shri in 1955, the Padma Bhushan in 1973, and the Padma Vibhushan in 1991. These are among the highest civilian honors in India.

Controversies and Self-Imposed Exile: M.F. Husain faced controversies and legal challenges due to his depictions of Hindu deities. Faced with protests and threats, he chose self-imposed exile and lived in various countries, including Qatar and the United Kingdom.

Return to India: Despite the controversies, Husain expressed a desire to return to India, but the legal challenges and controversies persisted until his passing. He remained a controversial figure, sparking debates on artistic freedom and cultural sensitivities.

The M.F. Husain Art Gallery: The M.F. Husain Art Gallery was established at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi. It houses a significant collection of his works, providing a space for art enthusiasts and scholars to explore and appreciate his artistic legacy.

Cinematic Contributions: In addition to directing films, Husain also worked on a project titled “Husain Ki Sarai,” where he painted the interiors of a building in Dubai, turning it into a unique art installation.

Prolific Output: Over his long and prolific career, M.F. Husain created an extensive body of work, including paintings, drawings, and other artistic expressions. His diverse portfolio showcases a wide range of themes, styles, and influences.

M.F. Husain’s family life

Marriage: M.F. Husain was married to Fazila Bibi, with whom he had six children. The couple shared a life that was undoubtedly influenced by Husain’s passionate commitment to his art.

Children: The names of M.F. Husain’s children are Maqbool, Shamshad, Mustafa, Owais, Raisa, and Aqueela. While the details of their lives are not as prominently featured in the public domain, it is known that some of his children have also pursued artistic endeavors.

Final Years of M.F. Husain

Continued Exile: M.F. Husain remained in self-imposed exile for an extended period due to the controversies surrounding his artwork. Despite expressing a desire to return to India, legal challenges and concerns for his safety prevented him from doing so.

Recognition Abroad: While living in exile, Husain continued to receive recognition and appreciation for his artistic contributions internationally. His works were exhibited in major galleries and museums across the globe, maintaining his status as a significant figure in the world of contemporary art.

Qatar Residency: During his self-imposed exile, Husain spent a considerable amount of time in Qatar. The Gulf country became a temporary home, providing him with a space to create and showcase his art.

Yearning for Home: Despite his global acclaim, Husain expressed a deep yearning to return to India. The artist, who had spent the majority of his life in his homeland, missed the cultural milieu and the vibrant atmosphere that had inspired much of his work.

Passport Controversy: In 2010, there was controversy surrounding Husain’s Indian passport. The government of India offered to facilitate his return, but there were legal obstacles and concerns regarding his safety. The artist continued to live abroad until his passing.

Death in London: M.F. Husain passed away on June 9, 2011, in London, England. His death marked the end of a remarkable artistic journey that had spanned several decades and left an indelible mark on the world of Indian art.

Legacy and Posthumous Recognition: Following his death, M.F. Husain’s legacy continued to be celebrated. His contributions to Indian art were acknowledged, and retrospectives of his work were held in various galleries, both in India and internationally.

Impact on Artistic Freedom Dialogue: The controversies surrounding Husain’s life and work continued to fuel discussions on artistic freedom, censorship, and the delicate balance between creative expression and cultural sensitivities. His case became a reference point for debates on these issues in India’s cultural landscape.

M.F. Husain Art Gallery: The M.F. Husain Art Gallery at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi stands as a testament to the artist’s enduring influence. It houses a collection of his works, providing a space for the public to engage with his art and reflect on his contributions.

Academic References on M.F. Husain


  • “M.F. Husain: A Pictorial Tribute” by Pradeep Chandra
  • “The Spirit of Indian Painting: Close Encounters with 101 Great Works 1100-1900” by B.N. Goswamy
  • “Husain’s Raj: Visions of Empire and Nation” by Sumathi Ramaswamy
  • “M.F. Husain: A Life in Exile” by Ila Pal
Articles and Academic Papers:
  • “M.F. Husain: A Modern Artist’s Spiritual Quest” by Yashodhara Dalmia
  • “Husain’s Heroes: The Artist’s Appropriation of the Mahabharata” by Kajri Jain
  • “Husain’s Arabian Odyssey” by S. Kalidas
  • “Painting against the Grain: The Art of M.F. Husain” by Partha Mitter
Exhibition Catalogs:
  • “M.F. Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950s-70s”
  • “M.F. Husain: A Retrospective”

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