Untitled (Head)

Untitled (Head)
signed and dated ' Souza 65' (center left)
oil on canvas
44 x 32 1⁄8 in. (111.8 x 81.6 cm.)
Painted in 1965
Osian's Mumbai, 26 March 2004, lot 53
The Collection of Kito and Jane DeBoer
Osian's Mumbai, 31 January 2007, lot 23
Acquired from the above

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Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

A master of line, Francis Newton Souza’s forays into the human form are well documented, and his work successfully explores a wide range of physiognomies from the most sublime female nudes to riotous and tortured figural forms. 

In the mid-1960s, following a wave of successes in London and several exhibitions there and in other European cities, Souza’s work changed direction dramatically. In a stark and poignant testimony to both his personal life at the time, which was tumultuous, and his feelings on the state of art and society in general, his paintings took on a darker, more menacing tone. Souza’s famous heads, for example, were further distorted in this period, resulting in complex mutated forms, of which the present lot is an excellent illustration. The artist noted, “I have created a new kind of face... I have drawn the physiognomy way beyond Picasso, in completely new terms. And I am still a figurative painter... [Picasso] stumped them and the whole of the western world into shambles. When you examine the face, the morphology, I am the only artist who has taken it a step further” (Artist statement, Y. Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, New Delhi, 2001, p. 94).

Painted in 1965, the present lot is an exquisite example of Souza’s work during this turbulent period, which culminated in his famous series of ‘black paintings’ shown at Grosvenor Gallery, London, the following year. Untitled (Head) may also be read as an acknowledgement, albeit foreboding, of the city where the artist found success and despair in equal measure. Throughout the painting, the thick black line so quintessential to Souza’s oeuvre delineates the geometric, almost architectural forms that make up the head, much like the structures of his staggering cityscapes. Etched over silver spray paint and white and crimson accents, the lines and shapes of this portrait may evoke chaos, but its construction is quite the opposite: Untitled (Head) is a masterwork of control and structure, a dark representation of the corrupt and molten core of humanity, a fundamental theme in Souza’s work. Distorted beyond recognition, this painting also invites comparisons to Picasso’s evocative portraits, particularly those where the link between art, politics, and war in the 20th century is made clear. Violence underlies the figure, visually representing Souza’s cynicism while also pointing to the rebellious spirit and constant experimentation with style and technique that defined his life and career. 

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