(Reuters) - Maqbool Fida Husain, India's best known painter, died in exile in London on Thursday aged 95, a close friend of the artist told Reuters.
"He died of old age. It happened early this morning," said Munna Zaveri, a friend of Husain for 40 years, before leaving for London. "He was in hospital for some time and was supposed to come home today or tomorrow but his condition worsened."
Dubbed the "Picasso of India," Husain's work is a blend of cubism and classical Indian styles that fetches millions of dollars on international art markets.
His depictions of naked Hindu goddesses enraged zealots who attacked his house, vandalized shows displaying his work and drove him to flee India. For years, galleries were too frightened of protests to display his work.
In 2006 he moved from Mumbai to Dubai, later London, and in 2010 accepted Qatari citizenship.
Famous for walking barefoot and carrying a large paintbrush like a riding crop, Husain grew from a struggling commercial painter creating cinema hoardings in the late 1930s to one of India's leading artists.
He was part of the Progressive Artists Group, a collective that broke tradition to create avant-garde art. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian honor, in 1989 and nominated to the upper house of parliament in 1986.
His death was mourned by artists and politicians in India. A spokesman for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party called it "a great loss," a sentiment echoed by Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni.
"He put Indian art on the international map," Anjolie Ela Menon, a leading Indian artist, told Times Now television. "He was so prolific that it didn't matter whether some of his art appealed to the masses and some of it was appreciated at the highest level."