“Then there is the work inspired by Khajuraho, where the woman is derived from classical form and the man is more contemporary and somewhat autobiographical. Then there is the yakshini pose, the full-breasted woman with the foot touching the tree. He explored this very pervasive influence of sculpture for quite some time.” (E. Alkazi, Ebrahim Alkazi, Directing Art, The Making of a Modern Indian Art World, Ahmedabad, 2016, p. 81)
In 1948, Francis Newton Souza travelled to Delhi with Maqbool Fida Husain where they attended a major exhibition of Indian antiquities and classical art organized to celebrate the first year of India’s independence. Their mutual friend and admirer Ebrahim Alkazi recalls the striking effect this close viewing of classical Indian sculpture and painting had on the two artists. “I remember Souza and Husain came to Delhi to see and suddenly their eyes were opened to the richness of Indian art, particularly in sculpture. The exhibition which was at Rashtrapati Bhavan, was the first large exhibition after Independence to be organized by the Indian government in 1948. It later travelled to Burlington House in England. It was the first presentation after Independence of the Indian point of view and was a watershed.” (E. Alkazi, Ebrahim Alkazi, Directing Art, The Making of a Modern Indian Art World, Ahmedabad, 2016, p. 81)
Painted only a year later in 1949, The Jealous Lover is a fascinating reflection of the aesthetic consequences this new imagery on Souza’s work. The sculptures he discovered from the temples of Khajuraho for example, carved in black and red stone, permeated Souza’s brushwork, particularly in the female figure he represents in The Jealous Lover. The voluptuous woman with almond-shaped eyes who occupies half of the composition is facing the viewer in a yakshini pose, reminiscent of the sculptures of ancient Indian temples. Wearing only earrings and anklets, her intimidating figure emerges through vigorous brushstrokes in saturated tones of green, yellow and brilliant pink, which seem to catch the reflection of the sun.
The nude female figure was a subject of both momentous torment and endless fascination for Souza. Frequently revisiting this archetype throughout his career, Souza’s extended engagement with the female form is well documented. These works explore a wide range of physiognomies from the most sublime and tender nudes to distorted and grotesque figures, expressing the artist’s complex views on the human condition, corruption, sexuality and religion.
Characterized by the artist’s distinct, powerful lines with a bold, provocative composition, The Jealous Lover is simultaneously imbued with a sense of raw energy and refined beauty. Of the scenes of lovers that Souza painted over the course of his six-decade career, this painting stands out as one of the most powerful, with the unique intimacy and theatrical presence its subjects convey. The male lover, dagger in hand, backs his partner as if on the verge of walking away from her, as she smirks behind him. The dramatic plot that Souza weaves here finds resonance in the recurring classical representations of the intoxication of the senses and of the woman as evil temptress.
Painted in 1949, The Jealous Lover foreshadows and perfectly embodies the imagery and artistic obsessions that would haunt Souza over the next several decades, and offers vibrant testimony of the foundations of his exceptional iconography.