Lot 32
  • 32

FRANCIS NEWTON SOUZA | Untitled (Head of a Priest)

40,000 - 60,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Francis Newton Souza
  • Untitled (Head of a Priest)
  • Signed and dated ‘Souza 59’ center left and further signed and dated ‘F.N. Souza 59’ on the stretcher on the reverse
  • Oil on canvas
  • 16⅛ x 13⅛ in. (41.1 x 33.1 cm.)
  • Painted in 1959


Collection of Harold Kovner, New York
Gifted by the above to Susan Seifert in New York circa 1962

Harold Kovner and his brother Sidney Kovner were close friends with Susan Seifert's parents. They vacationed together at the Siefert summer home in Pleasantville, as well as the Kovner's Florida home in the winter, where Sidney Kovner had a sprawling house on the beach.

Around the spring of 1962, Susan Seifert, her parents and sister visited Harold Kovner in his apartment on Central Park West. Ms. Siefert had just begun to discover the joys of drawing and painting and since Harold was a patron of the arts, her parents told him of her interest. As they were leaving the apartment, he went to a corner of the room in which stacks of canvases leaned against the wall. He selected one of the paintings, (the current lot), and gave it to her as a parting gift.

Catalogue Note

This vivid composition forms part of Francis Newton Souza’s iconic and extensive series of portraits. The strong, black outlines and cross-hatching recall the bold colorism of Georges Rouault, whose masterful characterizations of his subjects were similarly born from a decisive application of color and line. Souza was undeniably influenced by the various currents of European Modernism, and his works from the 1950s in particular manifest certain expressionist qualities. The artist’s high placement of the eyes and angular shaping of the lower jaw and beard are typical features of works from this period. While Souza was not unique in his enduring fascination with human faces, his idiosyncratic and almost obsessive return to the motif certainly seems to resonate with the long-celebrated tradition for artists to create self-portraits. In the present work, the ornamentation of the priest’s robes conspicuously references the adornments of the Catholic Church and speaks to the unshakeable presence of religion during Souza’s formative years in Goa. The bright blue color is particularly striking against a palette limited to darker hues and flesh tones, and the figure itself is all the more emphatic in its return of the viewer’s gaze. Materially these heads are often monumental, their features built up in impasto and deconstructed with a palette knife, revealing innumerable layers underneath.