Edwin Mullins, Souza, London, 1962, p. 4 illustrated
Country Life, The Architect as Collector, 29th September 1966, illustrated
Aziz Kurtha, Francis Newton Souza, Ahmedabad, 2006, p. 115 illustrated
The current painting was formerly in the collection of Dame Jane Beverly Drew and her husband Edwin Maxwell Fry and has remained with the family ever since. In the middle of the 20th Century, as leading British architects they were amongst the earliest adherents to the modern movement and both pioneers in the field of tropical building and town planning. Drew and Fry working in partnership together, specialized in providing innovative large-scale town planning, designing hospitals, estates and government buildings in Africa, India, Sri Lanka and the Middle East. In 1951, having collaborated on a book on architecture in a tropical climate, they were invited by Le Corbusier to be the senior architects to design and build Chandigarh, conceived by the Indian Prime Minister Nehru as "a new city of free India, totally fresh and wholly responsive to the aspirations of the future generations of this great country."
As modernists who worked in India on groundbreaking architectural projects it is no surprise to find that the work of Francis Newton Souza appealed to Drew and Fry. In the very year of India’s Independence Souza himself declared his allegiance to Modernism by founding the Progressive Artists Group in Bombay. The group included several artists such as M. F. Husain, S. H. Raza, K. H. Ara, H. A. Gade and S. K. Bakre who remain highly influential in the field of Indian modernist painting.
The current work forms part of a group of still lifes executed in the mid fifties that have a strongly ecclesiastical theme. Here the religious vessels of the Eucharist including the Chalice, Patens, Ciborium and Candelabrum are set upon an altar in front of a chequerboard hanging. The canvas is one of the largest of the group and can be compared to works such as Mystic Repast or Still Life with Fish. The chequerboard pattern is a recurring motif that reflects the altarpiece in Still Life with Fish and the ecclesiastical vestments worn by several of his religious figures that appear in his works of a similar period. As Edwin Mullins has previously noted, the strong black outlines that enclose deep vibrant colors are reminiscent of Rouault's style and like Rouault they are themselves influenced by the startling luminosity of stained glass, which in this instance only adds to the covertly religious sentiment of the painting.
Souza was born and brought up in the Portuguese Catholic colony of Goa. The impact that such an upbringing had upon the artist and the subject matter of of his early paintings cannot be overstated. The artist himself states 'It was the Roman Catholic Church in Goa that gave me any ideas of images and image-making.' (Edwin Mullins, F.N. Souza, London, 1962, p. 53). In support of this view Geeta Kapur states ‘his objects belong neither to the intimate comforts of a home nor to the glamour of the marketplace, both environments being specifically bourgeoisie in their origins. Very curiously, in the object world he reclaims the sense of the sacred that he so consciously drains from the human being and from God.’ (Geeta Kapur, Contemporary Indian Artists, New Delhi, 1978, p. 27). Souza rather than viewing the Church as a benevolent place of refuge grew up in awe of its imposing architecture and the ritual grandeur of its services and suspicious of the hypocrisy of its leaders.
'The Roman Catholic Church had a tremendous influence over me, not its dogmas but its grand architecture and the splendour of its services. The priest, dressed in richly embroidered vestments, each of his garments from the biretta to the chasuble symbolizing the accoutrement of Christ’s passion. These wooden saints painted with gold and bright colours staring vacantly out of their niches. The smell of incense. And the enormous Crucifix with the impaled image of a Man supposed to be the Son of God, scourged and dripping, with matted hair tangled in plaited thorns.' (Yashodhara Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, New Delhi, 2001, p.81).
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