M F Husain’s Guernica After Bhopal Features In Bonham’s Indian Sale

Maqbool Husain

The 8th October Indian and Islamic Art Sale at Bonhams New Bond Street is featuring ‘Bhopal’, by Indian artist Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011). This framed and signed oil on canvas is estimated at a value of £200,000-300,000.

In 1984, Bhopal experienced one of the worst gas leaks in world history, killing 2,000 people. Just as Pablo Picasso’s passion and outrage towards the Spanish Civil War had inspired him to create ‘Guernica’ (1937), ‘Bhopal’ was the result of Husain’s horror at the long-lasting effects of the leak.

Hussain’s artistic response might have been influenced by Picasso’s, but his artwork was first and foremost inspired by his surroundings. Nour Aslam, Head of Modern and Contemporary South Asian and Middle Eastern Art, comments on the painting’s originality: “The subject might be macabre, but that’s what makes it a landmark work. Hussain paints with bright colors to give the grim reality of destruction power and a flicker of light”.

Lot 416, ‘Bindu’, by Sayed Haider Raza (born 1922), is the second highest valued item on sale. This framed acrylic on canvas is expected to fetch between £100,000 and £150,000.

Raza began the ‘Bindu’ series in the late 1980s. Every part of the painting has its own meaning: Every color, shape, and design symbolizes a different emotion and a different theology. For Raza, the division of the canvas is an act of meditation, and the ‘Bindu’ is the center of calm.

Another highlight is Lot 413, ‘Untitled’ by Indian artist Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002). The painting is framed and mounted, and estimated at a value of £40,000-60,000.

Souza was a prolific painter whose sources of inspiration knew no bounds. In the 1970s, he moved to New York and became fascinated with Jonas Salk’s research on DNA which led to the first successful development of the polio vaccination. The paintings that Souza produced at the time were colorful and electric; they were the visual equivalent of Salk’s new and exciting scientific finds.

Souza’s disfigured and chaotic yet simplistic style was also undoubtedly influenced by the works of such artists as Francis Bacon and Frank Auerbach, although his paintings are less severe than theirs. The appeal of ‘Untitled’ comes from Souza’s unusual ‘cake-like’ method of painting and his use of rich colours.

A final highlight is Lot 418, ‘Four Figures’, by Pakistani artist Sadequain (1937-1987). This framed oil on canvas is signed, dated, and titled, and estimated at a value of £45,000-65,000.

‘Four Figures’ also has an affinity with Western painting. In Paris, Sadequain blended the methods that he had learned in Pakistan with Parisian styles and techniques: He combined the methods of Calligraphy, Cubism, and Surrealism. However, although Sadequain was influenced by such artists as Picasso, Bacon, and Fernand Leger, he never conformed to anyone else’s idea of art.

As Nour Aslam remarks, “‘Four Figures’ is the perfect example of how Sadequain was a most discerning rule-breaker”. It seems that the majority of the Indian and Islamic artworks up for auction refused to follow the rules.