Born: 17 September 1915
Died: 9 June 2011

Maqbool Fida Husain - Artist


More than any other artist of India, MF Husain has truly defined modern Indian painting and has also helped in creating a special place for Indian art, not only in the social space but also on the serious art domains and art markets of the world. As a general belief, Husain was born on 17th of September 1915, a date which he has thought of when he applied for a passport on 1950 for the first time having no proof of his birth date. In his own words, Husain explained in conversation with his biographer, Ila Pal:

“With no documentary proof surviving, I had to invent a date of birth. I knew I was a Leo, but did not know the date and the year. But because I like the sound of September, I decided I was born on 17th September, 1917. However, the alliterative sound of the ‘Ss’ in that date made me change the year to 1915."

Belonging to a Sulemani community, he was born to Fida Husain and Zaineb in the temple town of Pandharpur, Maharashtra in an age where there was no tradition of recording the date of birth of a child, particularly amongst the rural poor in India. It is therefore not surprising that there is no reliable record of Husain’s date of birth. But this factual detail about his year of birth is only a matter of historical accuracy and has no bearing on Husain’s significance as an artist. As a Sulemani, whose number in India is very small, Husain thus belonged not only to the minority community of Muslims in India, he is part of a minority within a minority. This perhaps is one of the key factors that has prompted him to aggressively appropriate a broader and composite Indian identity, including the Hindu mythology and iconography, in his art.

Husain’s mother died when he was less than two years old, an age where Husain is too young to know the enormity of his loss. He heard stories that as he lay unconscious with burning fever, his mother circumambulated his bed seven times praying to God to take her life and spare that of her son, a story which haunted Husain throughout his life. He does not recall his mother’s face and yet, a Pieta like image continues to live in the core of his being. This longing for his mother later became one of the sources for his ‘Mother Theresa’ series that started in the late 1970’s. After the death of Zaineb, it was Abdul ‘Dada’, Husain’s grandfather who looked after him. Dada became another source for Husain’s paintings portraying a bearded old man of ordinary means, full of love and grace. For him, Dada Abdul became a symbol of ordinary man who gives without expectation and thus represents true humanity. Husain’s family moved to Indore after his mother’s death and had stayed there until 1936 almost continuously with a break of a few years that he spent in Siddphur and Baroda. Indore’s composite religious and cultural atmosphere in which Husain grew up was to play a decisive role in shaping his sensibility. It was in the Muharram procession, which though Sulemanis do not take part in, Husain went to see in the company of other boys. It was in that procession that Husain first encountered the replicas of Bada Duldul and Chhota Duldul, the brave horses of Hazrat Ali and Imam Husain, the son-in-law and grandson of the Prophet who were killed in the battle of Karbala. Duldul later became an important source for Husain’s painted horses.

As the bond between Dada Abdul and Husain become even closer when Dada no longer have to work for a living, Husain had his first introduction to real horses. After picking him up from school, his grandfather would often take him to the workshop of Acchan Mian, a farrier, one who fixes iron shoes on horse hooves. As the two old men share tea in earthen cups, Husain would watch with fascination the horses that came to the shop and the way the iron shoes were fixed on their hooves. This has then became a complex motif in his paintings — a symbol of easy friendship, grace, valor, virility, freedom and more. Husain was about ten years old when Dada Abdul died. His life was shattered and found refuge in playing with lines, colours and forms. He was sent by his father to Siddhpur in Gujarat which opened the doors of Islamic history, mythology, literature and arts to Husain. By then, he picked up Gujarati and Arabic language in addition to knowing Urdu and Marathi. It was in this period where he started poetry which became his another refuge against loneliness and exposure to religious literature. Husain moved to Baroda after to continue his study. He became fluent in Persian language and his talent for drawing was quickly recognized in the school. From this time onwards, he continued sketching and painting whatever caught his fantasy, images of ordinary life which has became a part of his repertoire as an artist.

He moved back to Indore where he found, N.S. Bendre, his first guru and got admitted to the Indore School of Arts. After a short time spent here, he left without completing his diploma. He was then admitted to the J.J. School of Art in Bombay but due to his father’s loss of job because of the Great Depression, Husain could never resume his formal studies in Bombay and went back to Indore. In 1936, at the age of 19, he came back to Bombay to earn a living and determined to become an artist on his own strength without the help of an art institution. It was in the streets of Bombay that he was to gain maturity both as a person and as an artist. Except for the ability to paint, Husain had no other skills that could help him earn a living. He did only two commissioned portrait but despite his obvious talent for portraiture, he could not make a living by painting portraits as he did not yet have the social graces or the reputation to get such commissions on Bombay and had not yet acquired mastery over the oil medium, the preferred medium for making portraits. He therefore explored his other options which led him to become an assistant to Bhide who was then the most renowned cinema hoarding painter in Bombay where he worked for 5 years. This experience left a lasting impact on his growth as an artist. Husain himself recognized the significance of this experience when he said, “If I didn’t do cinema hoarding, I would have been a different man."

Husain got married to Fazila in 1941 and had their first son, Shafat, who was born within a year after their marriage. He gave up painting and cinema hoarding for a regular job as a nursery furniture designer considering the need for financial security. He also designed wooden toys which was perhaps inspired by the birth of his first daughter. These experiences with crafts and folk forms became a part of Husain’s repertoire as an artist as can be seen in some of his paintings.

Husain was invited to join the Progressive Artists Group in 1947 by F.N. Souza after his first public exhibition of paintings. Most recently, his work has been featured in solo shows including ‘M.F. Husain: Early Masterpieces 1950s-1970s at Providence in 2010; ‘Epic India’ at the peabody Essex Museum, Salem, in 2006-07; and ‘Early Masterpieces 1950-70s, London, in 2006. Husain was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, India’s Upper House of Parliament in 1986-92, during which he pictorially recorded its events, which were then published in 1994. The Government of India awarded him with a Padma Shri in 1966, a Padma Bhushan in 1973 and Padma Vibhushan in 1991, all high civilian honours. In 1971, Husain was invited to exhibit as a special invitee with Pablo Picasso at the Sao Paulo Biennale, Brazil. In 2004, he was awarded the Lalit Kala Ratna by the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi. Husian passed away in London in 2011.

Maqbool Fida Husain - Artworks

Text Reference:
Excerpt from the book, Maqbool Fida Husain by K. Bikram Singh, published in 2008 by Rahul & Art


  • Padma Shri, Government of India, 1966
  • Padma Bhushan, Government of India, 1973
  • Padma Vibhushan, Government of India, 1991
  • Lalit Kala Ratna, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 2004
  • Raja Ravi Varma Award, Government of Kerala, 2007
  • Appointed a term in Rajya Sabha, Government of India
  • 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World, Jordanian Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre
  • National Film Award for Best Experimental Film ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’


  • 88 Husains on Oil
  • The Genesis of Gaja Gamini
  • Let History Cut Across Me Without Me
  • M.F. Husain “Where Art Thou" An Autobiography with Khalid Mohamed
  • M.F. Husain “A Tribute"
  • Remembering the Master “Works by M.F. Husain"
  • Husain (Bartholomew and Kapur)
  • Husain (Daniel Herwitz)
  • Imprints of India
  • Husain “In Conversation with Husain Paintings"
  • Barefoot Across the Nation “Maqbool Fida Husain and the Idea of India"
  • Husain’s Raj: Vision of Empire and Nation

Top 10 Auction Records

Title Price Realized
The Last Supper INR 90,000,000
Battle of Ganga and Jamuna (Mahabharata 12) USD 1,609,000
Untitled GBP 1,082,500
Sprinkling Horses USD 1,142,500
Yatra USD 932,500
Ritual USD 920,500
Sita Hanuman USD 842,500
Untitled (Arjuna and Krishna) GBP 577,250
Ragamala Series GBP 397,250
Untitled (Horses and Rider) INR 42,225,000