M. F. Hussain: “I sell Horses and make Films.”

Picasso of India’, Maqbool Fida Hussain was a self-taught Indian painter. He was known for vigorously colored and bold narrative works. He embodied his paintings with metamorphosed Cubism and bestowed Indian Modernism.
Horses By M.F. Hussain
Image source: https://bit.ly/3zDVEo5


Hussain endeavored on diverse themes, the Ramayana, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, the Mahabharata, British Raj, and Indian rural and urban life. Parallel to Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, and Theodore Gericault, Horses were Hussain’s muse too. Horses are majestic animals, allegorical to courage, freedom, dauntlessness, gallantry, and triumph. Hussain’s horses have been the cardinal dogma in his artworks. He painted them to allude to inner contemplation and as a ubiquitous motif.

“Like his bulls, spiders, and lamps on women’s thighs, boastful snakes, and blackly passionate suns, Husain’s horses are subterranean creatures. Their nature is not intellectualized; it is rendered as a sensation or as abstract movement, with a capacity to stir up vague premonitions and passions, in a mixture of ritualistic fear and exultant anguish.” 

(R. Bartholomew and S. Kapur, Husain, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1972)


Horses appeared in Hussain’s oeuvre in the 1950s, he refined his own inimitable style while painting them. His obsession with horses was since childhood and he reminisced them through exploration of religions, countries, and civilization.

As Hussain said, “All forms of art are born from one’s roots”, his first inspirations were Tongas and Muharram celebrations in Indore. Muharram is celebrated as the anniversary of the battle of Karbala, in which the Islamic prophet’s grandson was killed. In Indore streets, he watched processions of Muharram, carrying the effigy of horses. He used to visit stables with his grandfather and stated that he can never forget the neigh-neighing of horses and the pound-pound-pounding sound of their shoes. He equated his horses to ‘Ashvamedhaof Luv Kush from the Hindu epic the Ramayana, he envisioned himself on the horse and blazing into the celestial skies.

In 1952, he went to China and met painter Qi Baishi, Hussain was vastly inspired by his minimal brush movements and monochromatic paintings of animals. He assayed terracotta horses from the Song dynasty and paintings of Xu Beihong. During his Europe visit, he came across edifying ‘neo-classical equestrian sculpture’ by Mario Marini and ‘Der Blau Reiter’ by Franz Marc. He visited Iraq in 1965 and stumbled upon the battleground of Karbala and felt a mystic connection. After this visit and the first Indo-Pak war his horses became riderless and mesmerized by arrows as examined by Daniel Herwitz. Hussain was also an admirer of ancient Greek mythology, the Trojan Horse, Pegasus, and Alexander’s Bucephalus.

The repercussions of Islamic and Hinduism culture, China and Greece’s civilization, and European cubism are evident without a hitch in his delineation.

In paintings, the horses are not steady rather they are depicted running against each other towards the finishing line and fighting in the battle. They unfold Hussain’s expertise in sense of movements through lines. He manifested his confidence by maneuvering calligraphic styles and monochromatic palettes in a few of his horse paintings. He was renowned for impeccably completing his work in one sitting. Hussain’s masterful brushstroke technique catalyzes the illustrated horses into dynamic, pulsating, and awe-inspiring creatures.

Horses, with the beauty of a woman and the valor of a man.
Start shooting past me like arrows, swift from a bow.
For long years they have been galloping like this,
And I have watched them all along.
Suddenly, a black horse noticed me.
He paused, turned back and said to me.
“Go forth and see the world.”

Indeed, it is true. Seeing the world is to understand one's own existence. Husain knows this well. Hence, he never stays at one place for long.

(Rashda Siddiqui, M F Husain - In Conversation with Husain Paintings, 2001)

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Written By: Anisha Singhania

Editor and Team Lead: Ashutosh Sharma

Sources for the article:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/M-F-Husain

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._F._Husain

https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6192211

About The Author(s)

Chemistry major with self-proclaimed good taste in Books and Music.

Anisha Singhania
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