Details & Cataloguing

Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art


Francis Newton Souza
1924 - 2002
Signed and dated 'Souza 56' upper left
Oil on masonite board
121.9 by 91.4 cm. (48 by 36 in.)
Painted in 1956
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Collection of Harold Kovner, New York

Acquired from the above by a private collector, Europe

Saffronart, 20 June 2013, lot 36

Catalogue Note

This powerful monumental portrait head was painted during an important period in Souza's career. The same year Souza had met the collector Harold Kovner who was to become his patron for the next four years. 'Kovner, a wealthy American, had come over from New York to find a young artist whom he could take up. He saw Iris Clert, who showed him all her pet abstracts, artist by artist. Kovner remaind unimpressed. Finally, and with some reluctance, she let him downstairs and produced several paintings by Souza. Kovner jumped. Within 24 hours he had met Souza, given him money, taken away some pictures, made arrangements for the future, and was flying back to New York. The arrangement was a perfectly simple one. Souza was to keep him supplied with pictures every few months  - entirely of the artist's choosing - and in return Kovner would keep him supplied with money. It lasted four years, and Mr Kovner is now the owner of nearly 200 Souzas. It was a case of patronage of the most simple and practical kind, and needless to say it enabled Souza to live without acute financial worries for the first time in his life.' (E. Mullins, F N Souza, Anthony Blond Ltd., London, 1962, p.26)

This monumental head displays the distinctive facial features seen on a number of other Souza portraits from the period. 'Around 1955 he fashioned for his purpose a distinctive type of head for which he perhaps best known. It is a face without forehead, bearded and pockmarked, eyes bulging from the side of the skull... a mouth full of multiple sets of teeth.' (G. Kapur, “Devil in the Flesh”, Contemporary Indian Artists, Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 1978, p.2)

'Figurative art presents no problems for Souza because he has succeeded in creating images which are entirely personal, yet recognisable at the same time. They are often distored to the point of destruction... grotesque faces with eyes anywhere and in any number... but they never threaten to dissolve into formalised abstract shapes. The violence and speed with which they are executed keep these images, however distorted, in touch with the artist's vision of what they really are.' (E. Mullins, 1962, p.37).

Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art