As a collector it would be a common thing to ask – which are the top (best) works of India’s esteemed artist – M F Husain.
Furthermore, it would be even easier to question the author of any such post – “How do you know which are his best works ?“. What is the definition of “top” or “best”, “your aesthetics may be different from mine”. Size does not mean quality. “Thick Impasto” / “Apparent Time Spent to Create An Artwork” does not necessarily mean good. Earlier works (prior to commercial success) may not be the best. Works on paper may be better than works on canvas .
Especially with Husain – this is a problem – as he was prolific over quite a few decades and produced a lot (some say 60,000+ art works).
To compound the problem there is usually a difference between the art critics eye and the collectors eye and both further vary based on how one was introduced to art and a persons collection and his/her choices / aesthetics. Western aesthetics are very different – some would say more evolved especially when it comes to modern art.
In India though we prefer something more pleasing to the eye.
As a side – it is nice to study the ecosystem of the sale (of the work shown above) to gain an insight into the art market. Sold by a consignor in Mumbai to a dealer in Delhi – consigned to SaffronArt in their September 2015 sale – bought by a dealer from London and then re-sold within a month to another collector in London who interestingly knew the original consignor and send him a “see what I just bought” message.
Whats the point of all this – the point is to illustrate the fact that Husain’s art was very people friendly , easy to display in our homes , his works were not meant to please any art critic but the consumer , the local or the NRI Indian and he was very successful at that. There is a famous cliche in the market “Husain was the best marketer of his own art“. So in deciding what the best works are – we can rely on the fact that critics don’t buy art , collectors do – some research into what has been selling well at auctions will give us good insight into which are the good art works of Husain. And again just for Husain – we should accept the relationship between auction sales and his best works because his works were always generally “easier to digest” and a critics technical/academic opinion is almost immaterial here.
I have broken it down by year to avoid the problem of comparing across market conditions.
June 2015 Sale, 38 x 100 inches – created 1956. Sold for over one million pounds.
titled “The Sixth Seal”, 36 x 80 , created 1964 and sold for over 720,000+ GBP
31 x 72 inches, created 1965. Sold for 230,000+ GBP
88x 44 inches c 1970s sold for over 330,000+ GBP
31 x 71 inches created 1980s, Sold for 350,000+ GBP
33 x 42 inches created 1955, Sold for over 620,000+ GBP
27 x 100 inches , created 1955 , Sold for over 700,000+ GBP
45 x 87 inches , Sold for 570,000+ GBP. Created post 1980s
60 x 6 incheas, created 1958 and sold for over 500,000 GBP
34 x 75 inches, created 1960, sold for over 390,000 GBP
titled “Ganga Jamuna” – created in 1971/72 and sold for over one million GBP
titled “Ritual”, 48 x 72 inches, Sold for 700,000+ GBP
70 x 47 inches created 1956. Sold for 430,000+ GBP
38 x 70 inches, Created 1979 and titled “Sita Hanuman”. Sold for 370,000+ GBP
36 x 72 inches, created 1969. Sold for 320,000+ GBP
Many large format works exist post 1980s – most/many of which were commissioned – these dont seem to be particularly desired by the auctioneers or the collectors who buy from auctions.
If one were to try to reach a conclusion, create a thumb-rule (which should definitely be avoided in a subjective thing like modern Art) – it would seem that pre-1980s large format works with some story/substance are the ones making a record and desired by collectors. Interestingly while it is well known that his horses always sell and that too easily , they dont seem to be anywhere close to the realizations of his “motif” based works. And again just to re-iterate this is just for Husain – every artist is different.
Images are the copyright of the Artist / Artist foundation and not any firm. I have no ownership of the images – these have been taken from various catalogs for illustrative purposes.
Disclaimer: I do not own or have any commercial interest in any of the art above. I do own Husain.
Christies, Sothebys, SaffronArt