Francis Newton Souza
- Francis Newton Souza
- The Crucifixion
- Signed and dated 'Souza 63' upper right
- Oil on canvas
Vogue Magazine, December, 1964
Jhaveri, A., A Guide to 101 Modern and Contemporary Indian Artists, Mumbai, 2005, p. 86 illus.
His first major work on the subject was a large scale painting, (at approximately 6 by 4 ft.) produced in 1959, that is now part of the Tate Gallery's permanent collection. The current painting was painted four years later and shown at The Human and the Divine Predicament exhibition held at the Grosvenor Gallery, London in 1964. Alongside this painting Souza also displayed another Crucifixion scene titled Last Howl from the Cross that was painted in the same year. What is interesting is the comparison of all three paintings. Souza draws on a well-known compositional device used by other 20th century painters and derived from the famous German Renaissance Isenheim Altarpiece painted in 1515 by Matthias Grünewald. This highly important and emotionally charged altarpiece was regarded as shockingly realistic at the time. The central Christ figure flanked by his mourning apostles is rendered with distinctive upturned hands, dropped head and pronounced ribcage that was to influence a number of important modern painters in the 20th century, including Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon and Graham Sutherland. According to Toby Treves, 'Edwin Mullins and David Sylvester compared the expressionist vernacular of Souza's work with that of Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon both of whom had depicted religious subject matter in a similarly brutal style shortly after the Second World War. Indeed, Sutherland painted several crucifixions in the postwar period which referred directly to the Isenheim Altarpiece, 1515 by the German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald, among them Crucifixion, 1946. Comparisons were also made to Pablo Picasso's work of the late 1930s and the 1940s, though the distorted faces in Crucifixion may equally be compared to those of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907.' (Toby Treves, September 2000,www.tate.org.uk).
Crucifixion and Last Howl from the Cross were both painted in 1963 and although compositionally similar, the rendering of the figures and in particular their physiognomies are very different. In Crucifixion, the features are fully discernible in contrast to Last Howl from the Cross where here Jesus's face is contorted, his teeth bared and hair matted, the surrounding figures grotesque and distorted. 'Like the figure they supposedly mourn, Souza has disfigured and distorted the men and women at the base of the cross, who appear to be heckling rather than grieving for the crucified figure. Thus, the mood set by the artist is one of revulsion rather than piety, recalling medieval scenes of heretics burning at the stake.' (F. N. Souza, Grosvenor Gallery and Saffronart, 2008, p. 28).