India Inc, art and Husain

Our Bureau New Delhi/Mumbai/Chennai | Updated on November 13, 2017 Published on June 09, 2011

M. F. Husain in his studio in London. File Photo: N. Ram

Art-loving CEOs across the country, who bought M.F. Husain's paintings, when he was a fairly unknown artist, have seen their investments parlay into a small fortune ever since.

Business barons have always been patrons of art. But if there is one artist who graces more CEO walls than any other, it is unquestionably Maqbool Fida Husain.

RPG Enterprises Chairman Harsh Goenka has a few, Ramesh Chauhan, Managing Director of Bisleri has at least three dozen, NIIT Chairman Rajendra Pawar has a Saraswati adorning a wall at home, DLF's corporate office has a Husain mural and chairman K.P. Singh is said to have one at home as well, while down South, in Chennai, M.V. Subbiah, former chairman of the Murugappa group, has a couple of Husains taking pride of place in his home.

Art-loving CEOs across the country, who bought M.F. Husain's paintings when he was a fairly unknown artist, have seen their investments parlay into a small fortune ever since. Apart from the obvious value a Husain painting has today, all CEOs have a sentimental story to recount about the artist. Mr Chauhan, who bought a few of the artist's works nearly 40 years ago, recalls, “M.F. Husain was a friend. We spoke about everything except his paintings. It was my wife who bought his paintings and we must have at least three dozen of his creations which were Rs 20,000 each in those days. Husain also wanted to direct a TV ad for Limca, which I owned those days, but I told him to stick to being a painter. Some of my favourite paintings are those of Ganesha which are still hanging on my walls.”

Mr Subbiah recalls that of the two paintings he owns, one was bought when Husain did a series during the international year of the tiger. The other, of a bull, Mr Subbiah recalls, was done by Husain in Mamallapuram. “I'm particularly sentimental about it because he signed it in Tamil,” he recalls. He remembers Husain being brought to his house which was being constructed in 1971, by a friend. He understood immediately the architecture of the house and where his painting could be hung, recalls Mr Subbiah. “It's sad that he has been kept out of the country for so long. He was probably a lot more Indian than most of us.”

Ms Neeti Pawar, wife of NIIT chairman Rajendra Pawar, says they would always make it a point to attend the great artist's shows. “It really saddened us that he was craving to be back in India and yet couldn't. There will be a void,” she says.

Early on, much before they met the artist, the Pawars bought what they thought was a Saraswati – since the goddess of learning is very close to the NIIT chairman's heart. “We were sure it was a Saraswati because of the veena, but so many people who came to our house said that it was not as she has ghungroos on her feet in the painting,” says Ms Pawar. Later, when she met the artist in person at a show, she asked him about it. “I had taken a photograph of the painting along and I asked him to explain why he made it and he wrote it all down and signed it,” she says. Well-known Sculptor S. Nandagopal, who is Secretary of the Cholamandal Artists Village, recalls how in the late '70s M.F. Husain would tour the country with a lot of younger artists in tow, those such as Bikash Bhattacharjee, Ganesh Pyne and others, for shows. “He had tremendous energy,” he recalls, “He would just curl up in a car and go to sleep and wake up fresh.”

Nandagopal says the Indian artist fraternity owe it to Husain for their work fetching more money in the art market now. “Even in the '70s his work was selling only in the thousands (Rs) and later it boomed. The way prices went up was solely because of him. He was the public face of art. Artists became better known because of him.”

(With reports from Chitra Narayanan, Purvita Chatterjee & Vinay Kamath)

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Published on June 09, 2011
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