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Beasts of Prey

Beasts of Prey
signed and dated 'Souza 63' (center left); inscribed "F. N. SOUZA Beasts of Prey - 1963 oil on canvas 69 x 46" (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
68 7/8 x 45 7/8 in. (174.9 x 116.5 cm.)
Painted in 1963
Formerly from The Estate of F.N. Souza
The Human and the Divine Predicament: New Paintings by F. N. Souza, exhibition catalogue, Grosvenor Gallery, 1964 (unpaginated)
London, Grosvenor Gallery, The Human and the Divine Predicament: New Paintings by F. N. Souza, March - April 1964

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Lot Essay

'Natural Selection' was Darwin's term [...] I am a Darwinian. One instinctively knows whether one is fit to survive or not [...]. My religion is nature. Nature is the sole principle, beginningless and endless [...and...] I am using energy from some universal source which men used to write the Vedas and the scriptures!
(F. N. Souza, Foreward to second edition of Words and Lines, New Delhi, 1997, unpaginated)

Monumental in form, Beasts of Prey depicts the raw yet dynamic intensity of wild beasts locked in mortal combat. A towering masterpiece to be interpreted on multiple levels, it is testament to Souza's ongoing belief in evolution, openly presenting 'survival of the fittest' with brutal integrity. Harmonizing the tension between force and restraint, the composition is marked by vigorous, exuberant brushwork that become visual traces of physical sensations. A diagonal line across the canvas gives the merest indication of horizon and the minimal, yet swiftly atmospheric grass spears give primacy to the epic battle taking place in the foreground. A suggestion of sky is present, indicated using atmospherically rendered white strokes sometimes flecked with blue, as if the world is oblivious to the struggle. Highest color intensity comes by way of the exuded entrails, executed in blood-red, and presaging the end of the fray. Tangible and visceral, it is as though the viewer is voyeur to a realm of danger, populated only by these struggling creatures mid-battle. Each one stares out of the picture plane with vividly defined eyes, and a level of pathos which betrays almost human emotion. Beasts of Prey additionally presents Souza's remarkable skill as a draughtsman, on a grand scale. Here the wildebeest, as prey, has succumbed to its fate with resignation and is solidly rendered in thick, black lines. Fantastical as well as partially realistic, the blue lion is conceivably human in stance -- standing on both hind legs it uses its front paws much like arms, whilst the wily leopard grips and tugs its pliant prey with large feline claws, and a resolute intensity.

Important within the artist's oeuvre, Beasts of Prey is a powerfully raw depiction of the cycle of life. As noted by Edwin Mullins in his catalogue introduction to the exhibition that included this work: "It is this built-in conflict in Souza's work which supplies its restless, fighting quality and what I have called its 'dedicated vulgarity' [...]. The surface of a canvas thus becomes a battleground on which are fought out the fears and passions of one man's experience [...] and awe at the proximity and terrible power of God." (Edwin Mullins, quoted in The Human and the Divine Predicament: New Paintings by F. N. Souza, exhibition catalogue, Grosvenor Gallery, 1964, unpaginated)

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