In 1948 Husain and Souza visited the India Independence Exhibition, this inspired the shift away from depicting the Street life of Bombay as radical Progressives to looking to Indian civilisation as inspiration. Classical Indian Art was looked down upon by society as the time. They challenged that and asserted that this tradition was as good if not better than the Western One. Souza wrote in the Illustrated weekly of India in July 1960 “Those mighty temples and pillars and many a carved figure of girls wearing nothing but smiles more enigmatic than even Mona Lisa could manage.”
Husain’s reaction to the 1948 exhibition was a pivotal moment as he said in an interview in the Illustrated Weekly of India in 1983 “….It was humbling. I came back to Bombay and in 1948 I came out with five paintings which was the turning point of my life….and using colours very boldly as I did with cinema hoardings.. I went to town... that was the breaking point…To come out of the influence of British academic painting and the Bengal revivalist school.”
In 1960 Husain and Ram Kumar visited the holy city of Banares (Varanasi). They were both immediately captivated by the place, which significantly affected the work of both artists. Ram Kumar went on to paint the city throughout his career as did Husain.
"Twenty years since Ram Kumar and myself sailed silently close to the ghats of Varanasi, my fascination for that eternal city is ever growing... Every morning, the proverbial Morn of Benares (Subah-e-Benares) would glow in gold and we pass by many ghats without a word. Only later we break our silence at a roadside Bengali coffee house…!"
D. Nadkarni, Husain: Riding the Lightning, Popular Prakashan Pvt. Ltd., Bombay, 1996, p. 110
In this work Husain depicts the ghats of Varanasi by dividing the composition in three. The lower portion the boats, the middle the bathers and in the top the city. The use of sandstone colour calls to mind traditional sculpture of the region. As does the frieze like treatment of the compositions.
Kumar Gallery, New Delhi Acquired from a
gallery in London c.1960s Private
Collection, Virginia, USA
and Contemporary South Asian Sale,
15 March 2016, NY, lot no. 529
HUSAIN, Frankfurter Kunstkabinett, Hanna Bekker vom Rath, Frankfurt, in association with Kumar Gallery, New Delhi, July 6 - August 15 1960, No.23 South Asian Modern Masters, 19 May – 9 June 2018,
Grosvenor Gallery, London, no. 4
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