Maqbool Fida Husain, an Indian contemporary painter who has been called the Pablo Picasso of India, died Thursday in London, said Sahba Husain, his daughter-in-law. The cause of death isn’t known yet, she said. He was 95.
Husain, who mostly avoided wearing footwear, was born in the western Indian state of Maharashtra and started his career painting movie posters and billboards. He had no formal training in art, according to his website.
The painter had been living overseas, mostly in London, following a 2006 court case where Hindu fundamentalist groups alleged that Husain denigrated Hindu goddesses by painting them nude. He renounced his Indian citizenship and went for a self- imposed exile. He accepted an offer to become a citizen of Qatar in January 2010.
“He was the face of Indian art,” Usha Gawde, manager at Sakshi Gallery said in a phone interview from Mumbai. “He took Indian art to the forefront. It is unfortunate that he had to force himself to exile during the last phase of his career.”
India’s Supreme Court in 2008 threw out the petition calling for his trial on criminal charges including for what the groups called were disrespectful pictures of Bharat Mata, or mother India, and Hindu gods and goddesses.
“For the last 2,500 years, Indian art has flourished,” Husain said in a 2008 interview. “It cannot be stopped by any force. Art is the identity of a nation.”
Early in his career, Husain designed and built toys to supplement his income. He held his first exhibition in 1947. India’s government bestowed him with the fourth-highest civilian award, the Padma Shri, in 1966.
Husain’s “Battle of Ganga and Jamuna” painted in 1971, fetched $1.6 million, the most for his art, at an auction by Christie’s International in London. In June last year, his “8 Horses,” fetched $442,750.
Husain, born Sept. 15, 1915, in Pandharpur, also produced and directed movies starring Bollywood actresses. His movie “Through the Eyes of a Painter” won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1967.
He was a special invitee along with Picasso at a 1971 art exhibition in Brazil. UBS AG, Switzerland’s biggest bank, sponsored an exhibition of 21 Husain paintings in Singapore in 2005, the year that Forbes magazine named him the Picasso of India.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called his death a “national loss.”