Lot 212
  • 212

Francis Newton Souza (1924 - 2002)

120,000 - 180,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Francis Newton Souza
  • Head on an Orange Background
  • Signed and dated 'Souza / 57' upper left and further signed, inscribed and dated 'F.N SOUZA / HEAD ON AN ORANGE / BACKGROUND-1957' on reverse
  • Oil on board
  • 47 1/2 by 23 1/2 in. (119.4 by 58.4 cm.)
  • Painted in 1957


Acquired from Harold Kovner, New York

Thence by descent

Catalogue Note

Harold Kovner was a respected American art collector who became enamored by Souza’s work and served as an important patron who introduced his paintings to an American audience. Kovner met Souza in 1956 at Iris Clert’s gallery in Paris where they entered into an arrangement whereby Souza was to produce a number of canvases for Kovner in exchange for a monthly stipend. Souza produced some of his finest works during this four year period as he had the freedom to paint whatever he desired. With bright blocks of color and thick black outlines, this work has been created in Souza’s signature style with brilliant hues that glow as if lit from a hidden source. The spikes coming off the man's head suggests that he produced this painting as part of a series of works associated with figures of kingship. A comparable work executed in the same year titled Ex-Emperor is published in E. Mullins, Souza, Anthony Blond Publishers, London, 1962, pl. 25.

One of the greatest strengths of Souza's work is that he remained tirelessly experimental.  The bold complex heads of the 1950s created with thick cross hatching become further distorted in the early 1960s to result in complex mutated forms. Mullins has aptly commented on Souza’s potraits, ‘Souza has given to art a great deal more than he has taken from it. His painting is intensely personal, to the point of being esoteric. To appreciate it, one has to participate in certain preoccupations and fears which make his visual distortions explicable and sympathetic. This is a gesture which the spectator has to be prepared to make with all ‘expressionist’ art, from Grunewald and Bosch to Munch and Kokoschka. And Souza’s distortions lend themselves to rational explanation no more than do those of Bosch and Kokoschka. If he was creating monsters, probably no one would be troubled; but because his images are clearly intended to be human, one is compelled to ask why his faces have eyes high up in the forehead, or else scattered in profusion all over the face; why he paints mouths that stretch like hair combs across the face, and limbs that branch out like thistles. Souza’s imagery is not a surrealist vision – a self-conscious aesthetic shock – so much as a spontaneous re-creation of the world as he has seen it.’ (E. Mullins, Souza, Anthony Blond Publishers, London, 1962, pp. 38-39) This painting contains many of the elements mentioned by Mullins including the high placement of the subject’s eyes, a mouth that spans across his face and teeth like the spikes in a comb. It is interesting that Mullins has deduced that these disproportionate traits are symptomatic of Souza’s view of the people and objects that surround him.

Souza’s distinctive output has also led to a comparison with Pablo Picasso - 'with his finest paintings the concentrated passion with which they were created may seem to burn over the canvas, yet the nature of the passion is less easy to place. They are full of apparent contradictions: agony wit, pathos and satire, aggression and pity. Their impact is certain but few people are able to explain what has hit them. Like Picasso, too, his interventions have tended to be thought outrageous, because the imagination that created them was discovering something about the visual world which no one as yet understood or which everyone had forgotten. (E. Mullins, p. 37) Souza himself has magnanimously stated, ‘As you know, Picasso redrew the human face and they were magnificent. But I have drawn the physiognomy way beyond Picasso, in completely new terms.  And I am still a figurative painter […] When you examine the face, the morphology, I am the only artist who has taken it a step further.'  (Y. Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2001, p. 94) Perhaps it is a combination of all these unique factors that has resulted in this exceptional painting.