Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011), Indian
Oil on canvas; signed lower right, titled verso and inscribed number “H3-50/IC”
38.25" x 50" — 97.2 x 127 cm.
Maqbool Fida Husain’s “Fertility” reinterprets the traditional Indian motif of the Mithuna or "loving couple", an iconic representation that first appeared in Indian sculpture over 2,000 years ago. Mithuna is understood to have multiple meanings, ranging from an obvious celebration of life's pleasures to the more metaphorical symbolism of a human soul's longing for union with the divine. Husain first painted the subject in his 1960 work "Mithuna Bronze” and would return to the theme throughout his career. In every incarnation, Husain transforms and all but rejects the old image. In the traditional motif, male and female are typically depicted in a loving embrace. Husain’s interpretation, by contrast, presents the couple with a different dynamic: glancing in opposing directions, recumbent, their postures exude isolation rather than unity.
According to Husain scholar Shiv. S. Kapur, there are two clearly discernible strains in Husain's painting; one which celebrates the beauty of life in simple forms and joyous rhythms of colour, and another which speaks of social hypocrisy, guilt and repression of sensuality. The disconnect between the male and female figures may allude to an erosion of a traditionally affirmative response to life experience in the community and the increasingly internal disintegration of the individual in modern society.
The juxtaposition of repression and celebration is also mirrored in the formal elements of "Fertility." The male figure in shades of grey appears cold and hard in contrast to his partner whose vibrant patches of colour and fiery yellow orb exude pulsating life. The traditionally positive connotations of the theme of “fertility” and new life contrasts strongly to the state of disconnect that appears to plague the subjects of this painting.
The Mithuna, along with a preoccupation with the female figure, are two of the most recognizable motifs in Husain's work which incorporate elements of classic Indian narratives as well as the influence of modern art's inward-looking tendencies. Husain's work reflects both upon the state of modern society while staying grounded in archetypal parables of life, love and death.
Source: "Husain" Richard Barthomew and Shiv S. Kapur; Harry Abrams Inc., New York 1971
Private Collection, Montreal