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Lot Details

Signed and dated 'Souza 61' (upper left)
Bearing 'Hamish Dewar Fine Art Conservation & Restoration' label (on the stretcher)

Grosvenor Gallery, London
Private collection, Mumbai

Referred to as the Enfant Terrible of Modern Indian Art for his visionary yet unconventional take on art, Francis Newton Souza, was one of the first Indian painters to achieve international recognition from a newly-independent India and a leading figure in its then-budding avant-garde movement. As the founding member of the Progressive Artists Group, he was one of the cornerstones from which the Indian Modern Art movement expanded and propelled to the west and eventually the world stage.

Throughout his illustrious career, Souza maintained a strong vision for his art, veering away from the traditional school of art of Santiniketan and the realism of the British school of painting. Aiming to make his mark, he capitalised on his strength as a draughtsman, honing his highly distinctive style and spanning the entire gamut of subjects from nudes, still-life, strongly drawn heads and landscapes.

The current work, painted in 1961, is part of the culmination of both technique and subject in Souza's prime decade. During this period, the urban environs were a vital source of inspiration, showcasing the evolution of his landscape paintings from the bold architectonic forms of the 1950s, characterised by their heavy outlines and thick impasto, to the more gestural and fluid compositions of the early 1960s.

In this finely detailed landscape, the characteristic angular and lopsided buildings in rich colours of vermillion, yellow and blue, outlined in black, create a world of choreographed chaos and unrestraint energy that represents Souza's unique perspective. In it, the architectural structures huddle together, compacted as if leaning on one another amidst a sky that seems turbulent and tumultuous despite being ostensibly blue. Amid the chaos, as one zooms into the details, one notices the subtle and nuanced use of colours that blend and bleed like foliage, filling the frame and expressing a flurry of complex emotions.

Atop lush greenery, the buildings in the foreground adorned with cornices and domed rooftops; call to mind Hampstead Heath in North London, where the artist lived at the time. The steeples, ever-present, are a nod to Catholic architecture, which informed so much of the artist's work in this genre.

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.