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Untitled (Lady in Tunic)

Untitled (Lady in Tunic)
signed and dated 'Souza 61' (upper left)
oil on canvas
28 x 19 in. (71.1 x 48.3 cm.)
Painted in 1961
Private Collection, UK
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Lot Essay

Somewhere behind any serious portrait painting there is a wish to gain command of a person [...] But in Souza you can see the real thing operating, you can see him closing in on his images as though they could save his life, or backing away from them as though they could kill him. Souza himself has said that he has made of his art 'a metabolism. I express myself freely in paint in order to exist.'
A. Forge, 'Round the London Galleries', The Listener, 28 November 1957

Born in Goa, Francis Newton Souza moved to London in 1949, remaining there for almost two decades until he moved to New York, where he lived for the rest of his life. It was in London in the mid-1950s, that Souza’s reputation was firmly cemented, winning him both critical acclaim and steady patronage. Widely regarded as the apex of his artistic career, the late 1950s and early 1960s saw Souza truly coming into his own. Listed among the most exciting young painters in London, this was the decade in which he embarked on some of his most ambitious and fruitful artistic projects.

Painted in 1961, Souza’s Untitled (Lady in Tunic) epitomises the self-assurance and dynamism of his paintings from this important period in his career. In this portrait, the subject is defined by the artist’s powerful lines. However, rather than etching out singular attributes like the high-set eyes and elongated noses that were fundamental to Souza’s portraits of the 1950s, here these lines create a frenzy of features. Multiple eyes and nostrils echo the rounded teeth below them, illustrating the new approach to representation and portraiture that Souza had just adopted. He explains, “I started using more than two eyes, numerous eyes and fingers on my paintings and drawings of human figures when I realised what it meant to have the superfluous and so not need the necessary. Why should I be sparse and parsimonious when not only this world, but worlds in space are open to me? I have everything to use at my disposal.” (Artist statement, F N SOUZA, exhibition catalogue, London, 1961)

The woman’s hair, worn open, frames her face as it cascades haphazardly onto her shoulders, effectively delineating her against the golden-orange background. With its decorated collar, her deep red tunic seems almost ceremonial, recalling the powerful religious and social figures Souza painted earlier to voice his fascination and conflict with the Roman Catholic Church and his general mistrust of authority.

Apart from marking a very important milestone in Souza’s career, and a significant transition in his artistic vocabulary, this confidently executed portrait represents the host of contradictions that Souza negotiated in his work with great skill. It is both a portrait and a symbol, controlled and abstract, static and kinetic, malevolent and sublime.

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