Maqbool Fida Husain, independent India’s best known artist, died in a London hospital on Thursday – five years after going into exile following violent right-wing protests against his paintings. He was 95.
Husain, who came to London from the Gulf a month ago, was in hospital for a week and died from a heart attack brought on by water retention and congested lungs at around 2.30 am local time, friends of the family said. “He had been very ill ever since he came here,” said Anwar Siddiqi, Husain’s close London-based friend.
Most of his family was with him when he died, the painter’s eldest son Shamshad Husain said. Arrangements for his funeral are yet to be finalized. The death of Husain, who went into exile in 2006 after Hindu groups threatened him for his nude paintings of Hindu deities, leaves a vacuum that will be hard to fill. Husain was a special invitee along with Pablo Picasso at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1971, and Forbes magazine later gave him the title of “Picasso of India”.
Although he left India, his popularity remained undiminished – and even grew – both at home and abroad. Works by Husain, painted in studios in Dubai and London, became the yardstick by which to measure a growing global market in Indian paintings. As recently as last week, three of his paintings sold for Rs 2.3 crore at a Bonhams auction.
In January, 2010, Husain was offered the citizenship of Qatar, which he accepted. Always surrounded by friends and admirers, Husain was active in the London social circuit and did not despair over his exile, keeping up a cheerful disposition. But the man known as ‘Husain-saab’ remained an Indian at heart till his dying day, often expressing a desire to return to his country of birth.