Lot 131
  • 131

Francis Newton Souza

80,000 - 120,000 USD
143,750 USD
bidding is closed


  • Francis Newton Souza
  • Untitled (Portrait of a Lady)
  • Signed and dated 'Souza 1960' upper right and further signed and dated 'F.N. SOUZA / 1960' on reverse 
  • Oil on board  


Acquired directly from the artist in London in 1960
Gifted to the current owner by the above in 1963

Catalogue Note

This fascinating portrait has an even more colourful history. The current owner of the painting met Francis Newton Souza at a bar called the North Star in London in 1960. He was so taken with her looks that he asked her to model for him. She went to his house in London which he shared with his partner and three children as it was also where he had his studio. Interestingly, Souza gifted it to her boyfriend at the time. When she was moving back to Norway in 1963, her boyfriend gave her the painting as a keepsake.
The portrait in question incorporates Souza's characteristic monumental two-dimensional head and torso set against a background devoid of context that allows the viewer to focus solely on the subject. One of the greatest strengths of Souza's work is that he remained tirelessly experimental. In a rare selection of his portraits, one can sometimes note an element of tenderness which is quite uncharacteristic of his works. Bold, brash lines usually transform his subjects into angular and harsher forms but it is clear that Souza has taken extra care to reproduce this painting more faithfully than he usually did. His spare, earthy palette has given way to a profusion of color and the sparse physical ornamentation and dispassionate gaze, are reminiscent of the works by Georges Rouault and also recall the art of Romanesque Spain. Layered with thick impasto heavily applied with the palette knife, the texture and depth of the current work offers the viewer a thoroughly ripe, tactile presentation.
By the time this work was produced in 1960, Souza had already begun to achieve commercial success as an international artist. In 1955, he had his first one-man show at Gallery One in Mayfair which was a sell-out and Souza's Nirvana of a Maggot, an autobiographical essay, was published by Stephen Spender in Encounter magazine. The following year, he met Harold Kovner, a wealthy New Yorker, who went on to become the artist's patron for the next four years. Their relationship ended around the time this portrait was made, ushering in a new era in Souza’s artistic output.