London/New Delhi: Celebrated Indian artist Maqbool Fida Husain, who earned both fame and wrath for his paintings to, died in London on Thursday, away from home on a self-imposed exile.

India's very own 'Picasso', who rose from a Bollywood billboard artist to become India's most celebrated painter worldwide, died a Qatari citizen at the Royal Brompton Hospital here where he was admitted after being in "indifferent health" for the last one-and-a-half month, family sources said.

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The legendary Husain, breathed his last at 2.30 am local time (0700 IST) at the age of 95.

India's biggest grosser as a painter with his works fetching astronomical sums in auctions in London and New York, Husain turned away from his homeland in 2006 following a series of legal cases and death threats over his depiction of Hindu goddesses in nude.

He accepted Qatari citizenship in 2010 after surrendering his Indian passport.

Husain's death away from Mumbai, where he started as a painter of Bollywood posters in the 1920s and later went on to achieve iconic status, was symbolic of the controversy that forced him out of India and dogged him to the last.

Over the years, Husain's career and success closely mirrored the meteoric rise of contemporary Indian art on the international stage and he became one of the best known Indian artists in the world.

One wish to come home

At 95, Husain had just one wish - he wanted to come home and touch the Indian soil, recalls writer K Bikram Singh about his last conversation with the painter.

“I last spoke to Husain in March. He was in Dubai and was going to London at that time. I told Husain, 'Sir you can't come to India as a citizen, but why don't you come here for some time as a tourist?' He laughed out loudly that time and said, 'Ek dafaa apne watan ki mitti chhoone aaonga (One day I'll return to touch my country's soil).’ Those were his words and it is really sad that till his last breath, he couldn't make it here,” Singh said on the phone.

Singh reviewed Husain's 60 years as an artist in his book 'Maqbool Fida Husain', which was published in 2008. He feels Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could have done his bit in bringing Husain back to India.

Artist who earned fame and wrath


Ebullient and eccentric at the same time, barefoot painter Maqbool Fida Husain took Indian art to the global stage with his cubist-inspired modern art but was riled in controversy with his paintings on Hindu deities.

Synonymous with contemporary Indian art, the painter was described as the 'Pablo Picasso' of India by Forbes magazine.

Born on September 17, 1915 in Pandharpur in Maharashtra, Husain was mainly a self-taught artist and made ends meet in his initial days by painting cinema hoardings in Mumbai.

Husain had once recounted that "We were paid barely four or six annas per square foot. That is, for a 6x10 feet canvas, we earned a few rupees.

End of an era

The passing away of Maqbool Fida Husain, India's leading international face in contemporary 20th century art, marks the end of a golden era in India's tryst with new-age art in an Indian idiom.

The man who loved Madhuri Dikshit, the darling of Bollywood, and galloping stallions in his eclectic colourscapes that exploded on the viewers' face with its blitz of vibrant colours died in a London just three months short of his 96th birthday.

Billed as one of the most expensive artists in the subcontinent and in Asia, Husain leaves behind six children and a fleet of 13 swanky sports cars that included a trademark red Ferrari and the latest model of a Bugatti that he acquired year before last on his birthday.

Legacy of Art

And of course a vast legacy of art - unparalleled. His canvases notched up to USD 2 million, a sale record for an Indian artist, at international auctions. And he was the staple of art world controversies. The India Art Summit - India's official art fair - virtually subsisted on the controversies that exhibiting the works of Husain ratcheted up in the form of media headlines.

At the time of his death, the bearded artist who loved to pad around barefoot, towered over his peers, both in his vocation and in his regal good looks, was a citizen of Qatar, patronised by the Sheikha (the sultan's wife) of Doha, who commissioned several art works by him.

Husain, known for his cubist and abstract depiction of figures and animals in Indian art, brought to the canvas a freedom which very few artists had the courage to replicate. His motto was art could not be shackled by the narrow confines of religions, caste, creed and colour - a philosophy that eventually led to his exile to Dubai in 2006.His painting of the Bharat Mata and Indian goddesses in the nude earned him the wrath of Hindu rightwing activists who had moved court against the artist, forcing him to leave the country.

Citizenship of Doha in 2010

In 2010, he became a citizen of Doha and spent his time between the Arab world and  London, where he had a studio.A secular man, Husain was inspired by every faith - from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Gajagamini, an essentially Hindu concept, to Mughal-e-Azam, the Bollywood blockbuster, in his art. A movie, 'Gajagamini', which he made in the late 1990s as his tribute to Bollywood ladies, starred his muse Madhuri Dikshit.It was followed by 'Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities' starring Tabu.

In 1967, Husain made his first movie, 'Through the Eyes of a Painter', which won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. At the time of his death, his autobiography was being made into a movie tentatively titled 'The Making of the Painter' starring Shreyas Talpade as the young Husain. Husain changed the destiny and colour of Indian contemporary canvas with his ethnic sensibilities culled from everyday life, nature, epics, myths and rural India. He was one of the prominent members of the Mumbai Progressive Artists Group founded by F.N. Souza in the 1940s.

Padma Bhusan in 1973

Husain freed art from the domination most 19th European expressionism and impressionist influences to create a distinctive Indian metaphor. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1973 and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1991. He was also honoured with the prestigious Raja Ravi Varma award by the government of Kerala.One of his sons, Delhi-based Shamshad Husain, recalls, 'I have heard so much about my grandparents and how they relocated from Pandharpur to Indore.'

Rags to Riches

MF Husain earned his father's displeasure because he was not interested in studies in school and just wanted to paint. 'But my great-grandfather supported my father.

'Around 1935, the family shifted to Mumbai. 'My father did not finish school and took to painting cinema hoardings to support the family of six children,' Shamshad said. According to Husain junior, his father proved to be a pillar of strength.

'I remember sitting next to him, watching him paint cinema hoardings in the 50s. Life was very tough and he made only six to eight annas (half a rupee) a day in the beginning. After the day's work, he used to paint by the lamp post,' Shamshad said.

The family lived in a single room on Grant Road for which MF Husain had to pay a rent of Rs.16. The children slept outside. In 1947, Husain's first exhibition was held in Bombay Art Society where his painting 'Sunhera Sansaar' was exhibited to acclaim. Between a period of 1948 to 1950, a series of exhibitions of M.F. Husain's paintings travelled all over India. In 1956, his paintings were exhibited in the art galleries of Prague and Zurich.After that, there was no looking back for M.F. Husain.

Husain’s life in shadow of controversies

All through his illustrious career, M F Husain seemed to be controversy's favourite child.

Husain who died in London on Thursday at the age of 95 had been living abroad in self-imposed exile since 2006 and finally settled in Dubai after accepting Qatari citizenship offered to him in 2010.

Progressing from painting cinema billboards to become one of India's most famous avant garde artist, he decided to live abroad after receiving death threats from right-wing groups for his paintings and often shuttled between the cities of Dubai and London.

In the 1970s and 80s he was caught up in controversy for painting Hindu goddesses in the buff.

His painting that first triggered public controversy depicted a bare bodied woman who was painted to look like the map of India, perhaps a take on "Mother India" referred to in cinema and literature. In 2000, cases were filed against Husain on the same issue.

In 2008, the Delhi High Court quashed three cases against him that alleged that he had hurt public sentiments though his works some of which were dubbed as obscene. The Supreme Court transferred the cases from Pandharpur (Maharashtra), Indore (MP) and Rajkot (Gujarat) to the Delhi High Court.

In September 2008, he got a major relief from the Supreme Court, which refused to initiate criminal proceedings against him, for allegedly hurting public sentiments through some of his paintings that were dubbed obscene.

There are many such pictures, paintings and sculptures and some of them are in temples also," a bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan said, dismissing one such petition.

Also, for the past three editions, the India Art Summit held annually in Delhi has witnessed controversy regarding display of Husain's work.

In January, Pragati Maidan witnessed high drama at the India Art Summit, as the celebrated painter's works were first taken off the walls following fears of attacks with right-way activists and then reinstated after an assurance from the Delhi Police and the Ministry of Culture.

Also, during 2008 during the art summit's first edition, organisers refused to showcase Husain works citing not enough police protection. In protest, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) decided to organise an exhibition solely devoted to Husain's work. The exhibition was vandalised.

In 1998, Husain's house was attacked and art works vandalised. Protests against him also led to the closure of an exhibition in London in May 2006. The Asia House Gallery shut down Husain's exhibition "M F Husain: Early masterpieces 1950-70s" after miscreants sprayed black paint on his works.

Husain's film "Meenaxi: A tale of three cites" also courted controversy and was pulled out of theatres after some Muslim organisation raised objections to a song in the film and filed a complaint with the Mumbai police. They alleged the qawali was blasphemous.

(JPN/Agencies)