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M.F. Husain, 95; exiled artist was called India's Picasso

M.F. Husain with a 40-foot canvas, “Violence,’’ in Mumbai in 1999. He was an instantly recognizable figure in India’s art world. M.F. Husain with a 40-foot canvas, “Violence,’’ in Mumbai in 1999. He was an instantly recognizable figure in India’s art world. (AFP/Getty Images)
By Muneeza Naqvi
Associated Press / June 10, 2011

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NEW DELHI — M.F. Husain, a former movie billboard artist who rose to become India’s most sought-after painter before going into self-imposed exile during an uproar over nude images of Hindu icons, died yesterday. He was 95.

CNN-IBN TV channel quoted a friend, Arun Vadehra, as saying that Mr. Husain, often described as India’s Picasso, died at the Royal Brompton hospital in London. His lawyer, Akhil Sibal, confirmed the death to the Associated Press.

Mr. Husain had lived in Dubai since 2006 after receiving death threats from Hindu hard-liners in India for a nude painting of a woman shaped like India’s map, often depicted as “Mother India’’ in popular arts, folklore, and literature. A nude of the Hindu goddess Saraswati also angered hard-liners.

The cause of his death was not immediately known.

The artist, whose full name was Maqbool Fida Husain but who was known simply as M.F. Husain, started out in the 1930s as a poster artist for India’s prolific Bollywood film industry. Decades later, his paintings and even his simple pencil drawings became status symbols for India’s wealthy elite, with his works commanding price tags running into millions of dollars.

Mr. Husain rarely wore anything on his feet. With his free-flowing white beard and hair, he was an instantly recognizable figure in India’s art world.

He first became well known in the late 1940s as part of group of artists headed by Francis Newton Souza who broke with traditional Indian painting styles.

Husain was considered a master of color and lines, with works inspired by Hindu temple art and cubism. His paintings could be a jumble of monkeys, elephants, and horses from Indian folk tales and Hindu mythology, but his favorite subject was woman as giver of life and love.

“He will forever be India’s greatest artist of all times,’’ art collector Shashank Sinha said. “He was a pioneer. He led the art movement as a youngster and shaped the way Indian art has evolved.’’

Some of the artwork that angered the Hindu right had been around since the 1970s, but came to their notice in the 1990s.