India Modern: The Paintings of M. F. Husain

This special installation—the centerpiece of the Art Institute of Chicago’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of India’s independence—presents eight large triptychs from the Indian Civilization series by M. F. Husain (1915–2011). Shown prominently across five of the museum’s Asian art galleries, India Modern: The Paintings of M. F. Husain marks the first time the series is being displayed in the United States.

India’s most important 20th-century artist, Maqbool Fida Husain was a vital force in the development of modern Indian art. In 2008 London-based Indian art collectors Usha and Lakshmi N. Mittal commissioned Husain to create a series celebrating India’s rich and diverse history and culture, from its earliest civilization of Mohenjo Daro to Mahatma Gandhi. At the time of the artist’s death in 2011, eight of the 32 triptychs had been completed; they were the last works of this modern master.

Each triptych of the series displays a different aspect of Indian culture. Hindu Triad, for example, shows the three principal gods of the Hindu pantheon in their aspects as creator, protector, and destroyer of the universe. In Language of Stone, Husain used the words of Nobel Prize–winning poet Rabindranath Tagore to pay tribute to India’s great sculptural heritage. Traditional Indian Festivals captures the joyousness and color as well as the continuity of traditions through festivals still celebrated across India. Tale of Three Cities is a journey from the subcontinent’s most ancient city, the holy Kashi or Varanasi, to the seat of the British Raj, Calcutta, and finally to the capital of modern India, New Delhi. This painting is particularly meaningful in its display at the Art Institute since it depicts Swami Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, which took place at the current site of the museum’s Fullerton Hall.

Interspersed among centuries of Indian sculpture on view in the Alsdorf Galleries, Husain’s paintings are presented in dialogue with and contextualized within the continuum of Indian art. The experience of these works is further enriched by interpretive elements and engaging programming throughout the run of the installation.