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Lot Details

Signed and dated 'Souza 84' (upper right)

Saffronart / Lot 41 / FN Souza: Live Auction / Mumbai / 11 September 2013
Private collection, Singapore

Francis Newton Souza (1924 - 2002) is among India's most influential modern painters. Much like his moniker, Enfant Terrible of Indian Art, he was a free thinker, often rebellious in his ideologies and irreverent to institutions he felt were restrictive and outdated in their norms.

He often portrayed subjects that are grotesque or often immensely disproportionate - whether a face or a landscape and aimed for the shock factor more than the aesthetically pleasing. He did this to challenge existing ideas and posit his own social commentary or criticism.

One such idea was womanhood and sexuality, which he explored on numerous canvases throughout his painterly career. In them, he portrayed his often complex views on the topic, the morality, and the guilt often involved with it.

The current picture, painted in 1984, is an example of this. In it, Souza depicted a woman in the nude, focusing on her breasts and voluptuous body, which is more exaggerated than realistic. He painted an erotic woman, unashamed and free from any social limitations. Doing without subtleness and portraying an image of sensuality that is forthright, direct and unapologetic, much like the artist.

The nudes of Souza are, in all likelihood, intended to undermine Catholic morality and norms to expose the Church's inflexibility and self-righteousness. As he explained in his 1992 article 'Naked Women and Religion, published in Debonair magazine, "As a Roman Catholic youth, born in Goa, I was familiar with priests bellowing sermons from pulpits against sex and immodesty particularly addressed to women, making them stricken with guilt. The Catholic men stood cocky in their suits and ties, concurring with the priests, lusting for naked women inwardly. Hypocrites!" (as quoted in Yashodhara Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2001, p. 92).

Francis Newton Souza

(1924 - 2002)
Born in 1924 in Saligao, Goa, Souza was expelled from the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, in 1942 for taking part in the ‘Quit India’ freedom movement. He went on to found the Progressive Artist’s Group in 1948, before leaving for London a year later. In 1955 Souza held a one-man show at Gallery One in London and also had his autobiographical essay ‘Nirvana of a Maggot’ published. He was awarded the John Moore Prize at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool in 1957 and received an Italian Government Scholarship in 1960. In 1959 a collection of his autobiographical essays, ‘Words and Lines’, was published, and in 1962 a monograph on his work by Edwin Mullins was published as well. In 1967 Souza migrated to New York where he received the Guggenheim International Award. Two retrospectives of his work were organized by Art Heritage, New Delhi, in 1986 and 1996. Souza also participated in a work-live programme in Los Angeles, hosted by Saffronart in 2001. Souza passed away in Mumbai 2002. Some important posthumous exhibition of his work include, ‘F.N. Souza’ at Saffronart and Grosvenor Gallery, New York, in 2008; ‘F.N. Souza: Religion & Erotica’ at Tate Britain, London, in 2005-06; ‘Self-Portrait: Renaissance to Contemporary’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 2005; and ‘Francis Newton Souza’ at Saffronart and Grosvenor Gallery, New York and London, in 2005.