signed and dated 'Souza 1949' (upper right) and 'SOUZA 49' (lower right); inscribed 'F.N. SOUZA 1949' (on the reverse)
gouache on paper
22 1/8 x 15 in. (56.2 x 38.1 cm.)
Executed in 1949

Lot Essay

Following his expulsion from the Sir J.J. School of Art for his role in the Quit India Movement in the mid-1940s, Souza spent his free time "...studying in libraries, where he discovered for the first time illustrations of classical Indian art and of modern European painting. These were a revelation [...] Souza made a passionate study of Indian art, and was particularly moved by the South Indian bronzes - with their symbolism and their astonishing feeling for movement - and by the sublimely erotic carvings on the temples of Khajuraho. Both of these made a lasting impression on him, and were largely responsible for awakening the imagination of the young painter." (E. Mullins, Souza, London, 1962, p. 16)

In 1948, Souza got the chance to see some of these works in person, when he visited the India Independence exhibition at Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi with fellow artist and co-founder of the Progressive Artists' Group, M.F. Husain. This painting, a 1949 gouache, appears to be a direct response to this visit, which left a lasting impression on the work of both artists. Souza's figures closely reference those of a second century C.E. sandstone relief of a Bacchanalian scene from the Kushan period, Mathura, which was displayed in this seminal exhibition and reproduced in its catalogue.

Although his stimulus may have been a traditional one, Souza's experiments with form and colour at the time were considered revolutionary, provoking a range of reactions from critics and the public. Writing about these almost primitive paintings, Dr. Hermann Goetz, curator of the Baroda Museum and one of Souza's early patrons, noted, "He has shocked many who cannot imagine a green or blue-red human body [...] who cannot stand a simplification intended to intensify an experience, or a distortion of proportions suggesting a sense of earthbound heaviness, ghoulish obsession, lightness or spiritualisation, who cannot face the frank statement of sex which is sublimised not by suppression but by association and interplay with the experiences of the soul." ("Rebel Artist Francis Newton", Marg, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1949)

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