In Search of Being: The Art of Francis N. Souza

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One of the most important South Asian modernist painters, Francis Newton Souza was an artist for whom art was a sacred rite, surrendering himself and his talent to a ceaseless search for being. Souza’s artistic trajectory was varied in subject matter; from nudes to landscapes and still life paintings, the resolute and almost heavy-handed black outlines and aggressively distorted forms have become distinctive of his stylistic choices. Reflecting the visual language of his cubist antecedents in Europe, his work appears flat yet dynamic. In celebration of the upcoming online sale A Lyrical Line: Paintings & Drawings by Francis Newton Souza, let’s explore the fascinating world of Francis N. Souza including some of the most memorable works sold at Sotheby’s.

A Lyrical Line: Paintings & Drawings by Francis Newton Souza

3–20 March | Online


In Search of Being: The Art of Francis N. Souza

  • Untitled, 1966. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    This striking painting incorporates Francis Newton Souza's characteristic 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.  The bold complex heads of the 1950s created with thick cross hatching become further distorted to result in complex mutated forms, such as the current painting. One can surmise that Souza's portraits from this period are inspired by the works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Rouault in their use of thick black outlines enclosing colour that recall the art of Romanesque Spain.

  • Priest at Altar, 1966. Estimate $25,000–35,000.
    Raised by a devoutly Catholic mother who hoped he would become a priest, but not particularly religious himself, these conflicts haunted him throughout his life and permeate his works over the years. This painting effectively imparts the anguish and highly charged emotions that Souza felt with regards to the Catholic Church. This rendering of a priest at the altar is very reminiscent of the pathos found in the works of Francis Bacon. By incorporating the spiritual influences of his childhood within these tightly ordered compositions, Souza has created a body of work where religion and Modernity coexist.

  • Untitled (Still-life), 1959. Estimate $3,000–5,000.
    In the mid to late-1950s Souza created a variety of drawings and paintings centred around a powerfully ecclesiastical theme. Here, religious vessels including the chalice, patens and ciborium—are artfully constructed in Souza’s signature style.

  • Set Of 2 Animal Studies (1 Double Sided), 1940. Estimate $2,000–3,000.
    These drawings of animals are quite rare, not only because this was not a subject matter he produced often (preferring landscapes or human, sexual and religious themes instead) but these works were made while he was still in India. These studies are more life-like and less abstract than the works he made after moving to Europe and are rare to appear on the market.

  • Untitled (Woman kneeling), 1959. Estimate $3,000–5,000.
    Throughout his life, Souza created nudes in many forms (particularly nubile and young) and they remained central to his work. In the current drawing, one finds a tenderness Souza reserves for a rare selection of his female nudes. The naïve young beauty; rendered with solid lines, illustrated with a geometrically long nose; and sparse physical ornamentation are distinct features of other nudes from this early period.

  • The Red Road, 1962. Sold for $1,148,140 at Sotheby's London: 2 May, 2008.
     There can be little doubt that F.N. Souza's Goan cultural tradition has been as much a source of his deepest anguish as of his best work. The landscape into which Souza was born remains much as he describes it: "A beautiful country, full of rice fields and palm trees; whitewashed churches with lofty steeples; small houses with imbricated tiles, painted in a variety of colours. Glimpses of the blue sea. Red roads curving over hills and straight across paddy fields. Morning is announced by the cock crowing; the approaching night by Angelus bells". (F. N. Souza, Words and Lines, 1959).

  • Amsterdam Landscape, 1961. Sold for $1,173,552 at Sotheby's London: 23 May, 2006.
    'The landscapes, architectonic with their 'cubic factors' are ultimately lyrical. There's an unrestrained enthusiasm, a liberty in the application of colour that is swiftly applied with a palette knife, creating smooth pulsating textures.' (Anthony Ludwig, Souza, New Delhi, Dhoomi Mal Gallery).

  • The Deposition, 1963. Sold for $1,926,391 at Sotheby's London: 18 October, 2016.
    One of Francis Newton Souza’s most moving, sympathetic portrayals of Christ’s agony; here he takes the iconography and composition from Titian’s Entombment of Christ, allowing it to be truly re-born in his own expressionistic language which led critics to compare him with the likes of Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon. This work was celebrated on the cover of Studio International Art magazine in 1964 and represents the pinnacle of Souza’s work from his London years.

  • The Crucifixion, 1963. Sold for $557,000 at Sotheby's New York: 19 March, 2013.
    Francis Newton Souza's ambivalence with religion is represented in this expressionistic painting. In the artist’s own words, ‘For me the all pervading and crucial themes of the predicament of man are those of Religion and Sex.’ (1964 interview with Mervyn Levy). Souza has depicted the martyred Christ in a number of his canvases but the current painting titled Crucifixion is one of his most evocative portrayals of the subject.


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