M.F. Husain, one of the pioneers of modern Indian art and hailed as the "Picasso of India", died in a London hospital on Thursday after a heart attack. He was 95.
Husain, who was forced to leave India in 2006 following death threats from right-wing Hindutva groups over his depiction of Hindu deities, had been living in London and Dubai. Last year, in an unprecedented gesture, Qatar offered him citizenship which he accepted though he insisted that India would always remain his "home" regardless of where he lived physically.
Family sources were reported as saying that he would not be taken to India for burial and his last rites would be conducted in London.
The famously "barefoot" artist, who started his career by painting film hoardings in the 1940s, put Indian art on the world map with his own work routinely fetching millions of dollars in the international market. Only recently one of his paintings fetched Rs. 2.32 crore at an auction at Bonham’s in London.
Born on September 17, 1915 in Pandharpur, Maharashtra, Hussain lost his mother when he was only one and a half years old. His father remarried and moved to Indore where he went to school. In 1935, he moved to what was then Bombay and joined Sir J. J. School of Art. As a young struggling artist he painted cinema hoardings and first came to limelight in the 1940s. He then quickly made his mark as one of the pioneering spirits behind India’s fledgling avante garde movement. In 1947, he joined the Progressive Artists' Group, led by F.N .Souza.
Husain made his international debut in 1952 with a solo exhibition at Zurich and soon established a worldwide reputation becoming one of India’s highest paid painters. Owning his work became a mark of social status. In 1955, the Government honoured him with Padma Shree.
Reputed for his free creative spirit and his sense of adventure, Husain experimented with cinema making his first film "Through the Eyes of a Painter" in 1967. The film was shown at the Berlin Film Festival and won a Golden Bear. He also made two Hindi films, "Gaja Gamini" and "Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities."
Husain, easily recognisable in his trademark flowing beard and white hair, was a familiar figure in London’s art circles and remained active until his last days. Tributes poured in as news of his death spread. His death marks the end of an era in Indian art.
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