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PROPERTY FROM THE GLENBARRA ART MUSEUM, JAPAN

Francis Newton Souza
THE LAST SUPPER
JUMP TO LOT
45

PROPERTY FROM THE GLENBARRA ART MUSEUM, JAPAN

Francis Newton Souza
THE LAST SUPPER
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Boundless: India

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Mumbai

Francis Newton Souza
1924 - 2002
THE LAST SUPPER
Signed and dated 'Souza+1990' upper right 
Oil on canvas
121.6 x 182.9 cm. (47 ⅞ x 72 in.)
Painted in 1990
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Provenance

Acquired from a close friend of the artist, circa 1990s

Catalogue Note

Much has been written in the historical literature about Francis Newton Souza’s lifelong preoccupation with the Catholic Church, its dogma and its rituals that served to inspire and / or at times repel him. The present work, The Last Supper, dating from 1990 and coming from the Glenbarra Art Museum in Himeji, Japan, is a monumental reinterpretation of a classical theme going back to the Da Vinci’s Renaissance, and a tour de force in an oeuvre that spanned over five decades. This work is part of a suite of large-scale paintings that were acquired by Glenbarra in the 1990s until shortly before Souza’s death in 2002. Amongst these works are: The Promise 2 (1987); Last Supper (1989); Crucifixion (1988); and Benediction, (1987). Supper at Emmaus (1987), and a Deposition scene (1987) depicting Christ and the mourning Mary also reveal a compelling narrative of Souza’s later years and his obsessions that brought about some of his most provocative and Messianic visions. These circle back to his beginnings as an artist and yet also serve as a capstone to his storied artistic career.

Within Souza’s biography, the year 1987 was pivotal. Ebrahim Alkazi, a pioneering patron, long-time friend and collector of Souza's work gave him a stipend that allowed him to fully focus on his art. More poignantly, his only living parent, Lily, died that year and Souza’s grief manifested his painting. She was devoutly Catholic and her faith in the Church was unfailing. His atheism was diametrically opposed to his mother's theism, and throughout his life, Souza identified with the suffering Christ even as he railed against the Church. (Correspondence with Shelley Souza, October 2019) Other internalised conflicts arose from his own philosophical, religious and scientific studies. He was well-read and he wrote extensively on these subjects which formed his new treatises as a writer and an artist. Souza’s work from around this time especially was occupied by multiple dualities with the outcomes addressing his suffering and his fundamental theories about existence.

 

The Last Supper, 1990

Souza created many versions of The Last Supper throughout his career including one illustrated from the year before. The present work is set apart by its unusual depiction of subject, fiery palette and textured surface. The central Christ figure is possibly a self portrait of the artist surrounded by alien-like figures depicting the 12 Apostles. While some wear priestly vestments, what is most striking about the painting is that the six of them are in modern-day suits and ties. The visual reference harkens back to Souza’s iconic drawings from 1955, Six Gentlemen of our Times.

The faces of Jesus’s Apostles, with their high-set eyes, lopsided features and harsh outlines, are evocative of the artist’s stylised heads from the late 1950s and 60s. Art critic Edwin Mullins described Souza’s works from this early period as being ‘distorted to the point of destruction’. (E. Mullins, Souza, Anthony Blond Ltd., London,1962, p. 36)

The question is what do the distorted figures as Apostles signify in this context and why would Souza revisit the ‘six gentlemen’ almost 35 years later? In 1955, the ‘six gentlemen’ were characters with savaged visages representing inner and outer corruption yet masked by their civilised garb. In this painting, The Last Supper is the moment from the Gospel of John (13:21) of the first Eucharist with Christ (or his stand-in Souza) holding the host as he reveals to his followers that he is about to be betrayed by one of them. With dismayed faces and gestural hands, the twelve men exclaim, “Who me? Not I.”

Perhaps it is in Souza’s distillation of the ideas of Sanford Redmond that we can find some deeper clues into this late body of work. "Souza saw Sanford Redmond's full-page advertisement titled 'Nature in an Altered Perspective', in the New York Times on 20 May 1980. To him, Redmond's theory synthesised everything my father had not been able to quite reconcile about pre-determinism. (Correspondence with Shelley Souza, October 2019) In Souza's 1982 text, White Flag Revolution: A New Theory, a New Symbol, a New Force, a New Art, he notes that Nature is pre-programmed. In his practice, he now saw the chemical process that he had long experimented with, as one where the work was always present but revealed into a new state. Paintings were the same, they had always existed but also now revealed from an altered state where matter is interchangeable. Redmondism radically changed the way Souza considered his art and himself. All that is, has always existed. It gave him vindication for his belief that but for Picasso, he was the greatest artist in the world.

“I have created a new type of face. In The Last Supper [1989] there are two or three faces and they are drawn in completely new iconography, beyond Picasso. 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…"

F. N. Souza quoted in Y. Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2001, p. 94

In a diary entry dated 20 May 1980, Souza related Sanford Redmond's philosophical treatise to several things including including the Bhagavad Gita. In the Bhagavad Gita, it was Arjuna’s destiny to defeat his cousins for the sake of the world even if he expressed a wish to not fight. He had no choice, just as Christ had to die in order to save the world from the Devil. However, the themes of pre-determination and dharma within the Hindu text seem to clash with the concept of free will which is central to Catholicism. The notion that God would have ordained his only Son to redeem the sins of the world also refutes the idea of free will. In this revelatory painting, Judas Iscariot is one of the six gentlemen depicted in a reds and purples with his hand closest to the wine cup. Did he have a choice to betray Christ? In this mode, Souza personally identified with Christ the redeemer. He would save the world through his art. His Messianic visions would thus be grander and ever more apocalyptic in scale and scope… because they were prophetically destined to be.

‘Love your enemy’ is perhaps the singular doctrine which distinguishes Christ from other prophets. Diary entry, 22 January 1980, courtesy Estate of FN Souza

Masanori Fukuoka, Director of Glenbarra Art Museum, when asked about what drew him to The Last Supper, 1990 perhaps subconsciously picked up on what Souza was trying to achieve when the artist said in 1997, “Art for me is a theory which the artist practices.”  (Francesca Souza, ‘Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Saffronart, December 2015, p. 17). To Masanori, The Last Supper serves as the culmination of all the thousands of faces he saw in Souza’s drawings and paintings through 40 years of the artist’s body of art. The bold and richly coloured palette of The Last Supper from 1990 is a wonderful example of Souza’s boundary breaking combination of thought and art and a masterpiece amongst his later works.

We gratefully acknowledge the Estate of F.N. Souza in the preparation of this catalogue note.

 

Boundless: India

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Mumbai