- E. Mullins, Souza, Anthony Blond Publishers, London, 1962, p.36
Throughout his life, Francis Newton Souza painted female nudes in many forms (particularly nubile and young) and they remained central to his work. In the current painting, one finds a tenderness Souza reserves for a rare selection of his female nudes. The naive young beauty; illustrated with a geometrically long nose; earthy spare palette; sparse ornamentation with a noticeably Mediterranean design and dispassionate gaze, all rendered in thick Georges Rouault-like black lines are distinctive features of other nudes from this early period. Layered with thick impasto delivered with heavy slashes of the palette knife, the texture and depth the current work offers the viewer a thoroughly ripe, tactile presentation.
This curvaceous nude with high rounded breasts, a jewelled necklace and heavy bangles is also reminiscent of South Indian bronzes and the voluptuous forms of classical Indian temple carving. Her stance is slightly off-set, emphasising her curving hips, a position mirrored in the sandstone stele of Devi that is illustrated here.
However, upon his move to London he increasingly absorbed more European influences. It has been suggested that Spanish Romanesque art inspired his iconic stances and frontal compositions, but the linear form of the current nude seems to owe more to the Picasso nudes of the 1930s. In this respect, Souza's nudes from the 1960s go beyond the boundaries of convention, and there is no attempt to attain the innocence of folk or tribal art; his intention is rather to face the contemporary world head on.
The women in Souza's canvases are naked rather than nude, their gaze is direct and assertive, acknowledging both their blatant sexuality and vulnerability. Edwin Mullins discusses the significance of the female nude in Souza’s practice. ‘[Souza’s] women with girdles and high rounded breasts, fastening a pin in their hair [...] clearly have their origins in Indian stone carvings and bronzes. Yet in spirit they are not traditional […] On the whole his paintings of nudes are more gentle than most of his other work; they have less impassioned ferocity about them. At the same time they are often perverse and obsessed. The inelegant sexual poses, the blunt emphasis on the pregnant belly, the ravaged face. They suggest a personal fascination with the female body, blended with an almost Swiftian disgust with its natural functions.’ (E. Mullins, Souza, Anthony Blond Publishers, London, 1962, p. 43)
‘It is not surprising to see that women are the all-consuming passion in Souza’s works. Unlike his ghoulish heads, Souza’s sexual motifs are strangely unilateral and singular. His earliest women were iconic figures, stiffly bound by thick black lines rather like powerful mother goddesses…’ (Y. Dalmia, ‘A Passion for the Human Figure', The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2001, p. 91)
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