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signed and dated 'Souza 55' (upper center); further inscribed and titled 'F N SOUZA TOWNSCAPE' (on original stretcher bar on the reverse)
oil on canvas
21¼ x 14¾ in. (54 x 37.5 cm.)
Painted in 1955
Formerly from a Private American Collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1991

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Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari

Lot Essay

Born in 1924 to Roman Catholic parents of Goan origin, Francis Newton Souza had a contentious relationship with the Catholic Church, captivated by it during his youth only to deeply question its practices and representatives later in his life. The artist's early works mix elements of Catholic imagery found in his birthplace with stylistic techniques he learned by observing the works of various Western Modernist artists. His fascination with the architecture and grandeur of the Church is evident in several of the urban landscapes he painted at this time.

In Townscape, the artist uses his iconic outline, this time in white rather than black, to articulate corniced buildings and rooftops in front of an imposing domed structure of a Cathedral on the horizon. The dome is a recurrent form in Souza's urban landscapes, inspired by buildings like St. Paul's Cathedral in London, where he was living at the time, and several structures he encountered on his travels through Italy. Modern western works like Paul Klee's The Great Dome (1927) also influenced the artist during his years in London. Using a colorful palette of pastel yellows, blues, greens and reds, Souza perhaps refers to the stained glass windows he recalls from the churches he was made to visit with his grandmother as a child. Maximizing his use of the canvas, Souza constructs this cityscape from a series overlapping and highly faceted geometric forms. Collapsing depth of field, he circumvents a traditional one-point perspective allowing his architectonic structures to build tightly upon each other in a cubistic manner. His use of white and pastel shades highlights the artist's skill with pattern, composition and form.

In this painting, Souza depicts these luminescent manmade structures against a looser more impressionistic pale blue sky, bringing to mind an early morning scene where the rising sun makes each jewel-like window pane in the city shimmer and glow. Painted in 1955, this cityscape epitomizes the dynamism of the artist's works from this seminal period, and demonstrates the stylistic innovations which finally won Souza the critical and popular acclaim he sought in London. A chromatic masterpiece, this painting is controlled yet expressive, representational yet abstract. Over the next decade, Souza's landscapes would become progressively more abstract and gestural, giving more of an impression of an environment than a literal description of a place.

Fellow artist Jagdish Swaminathan describes Souza's cityscapes as "singularly devoid of emotive inhibitions." They are the "congealed visions of a mysterious world. Whether standing solidly in enameled petrification or delineated in thin color with calligraphic intonations, the cityscapes of Souza are purely plastic entities with no reference to memories or mirrors." (J. Swaminathan, 'Souza's Exhibition', Lalit Kala Contemporary 40, New Delhi, March 1995, p. 31)

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