Maqbool Fida Husain, independent India’s most famous 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 fell ill soon after coming to London from the Gulf about a month ago and died at Royal Brompton hospital at 8am Indian time, said Anwar Siddiqi, among the painter’s closest friends in London.
“He died of congestive heart failure, possibly brought on by a lung infection. Age was a factor too,” said Lord Khalid Hameed, chairman of London International Hospital group and a friend.
Husain was first admitted to Royal Brompton around a month ago. He was soon discharged and took up residence in a flat outside the hospital in the Kensington area. He was readmitted on Tuesday after complaining of shortness of breath.
“In his last days, he was talking and in complete possession of his mental faculties,” said Hameed. “He was in good humour and even discussed business matters.”
Family members, including son Owais and daughter Raisa, were with him when he died, the painter’s eldest son, Shamshad Husain, said.
Husain made London and Dubai his home after going into exile in 2006 over violent protests by Hindu groups angered by his paintings of Hindu goddesses in the nude.
In London, he lived and painted in a flat in the upscale Mayfair neighbourhood.
And although he owned two flashy Rolls Royce Phantoms, he was often seen walking the streets barefoot.
“He may have left India, but then India came to him in London," said Siddiqi, whose art gallery helped launch Husain in London in the mid-’90s. “People came here and sought him out just to spend some time with him.”
Husain was also courted by Indian billionaires Lakshmi Mittal and the Hinduja brothers, among others. Yet, lunch for him was often a simple meal at his favourite Chinese restaurant, Kai Mayfair.
In his last days, Husain asked for meals of aloo-palak and daal. "He hated the cold weather in London," said Siddiqi. Always surrounded by friends and admirers, Husain never publicly despaired of his exile, always keeping up a cheerful disposition.
Although disparaging of passports, the man known to everyone as ‘Husain sahab’ remained an Indian at heart till the very end, and often expressed a quiet desire to return to his country of birth.
Husain’s paintings, which sold briskly in London auctions, were usually seen as a barometer for the health of the burgeoning global market in Indian art. See Special
Paying tributes, auctioneers Christie's said, "Husain's leadership and contribution to the art world cannot be overstated and although we will miss him, he lives on forever in his art.”