Landscape of Hampstead, London

Souza, F.N.
Landscape of Hampstead, London
signed and dated 'Souza 64' (upper center); further signed, titled, dated and inscribed 'F.N. SOUZA / LANDSCAPE OF HAMPSTEAD, LONDON / 1964 / OIL ON BOARD' (on the reverse)
oil on board
24 x 23 7/8 in. (61 x 60.6 cm.)
Painted in 1964
Acquired directly from the artist, New York, circa late 1990s
Thence by descent

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Lot Essay

“While Souza’s portraits stay within intensely personal boundaries, in his landscapes we see the opposite in effect. The Landscapes, architectonic, with their ‘cubic factors’ (a term I use to suggest plane and volume) are ultimately lyrical. There’s an unrestrained enthusiasm, a liberty in the application of color that is applied swiftly with a palette knife, creating smooth pulsating textures [...] Our emotions are guided by the effects of the vibrant color schemes that belong to a world of subconscious fantasy indicative of the fertility of Souza’s personal vision” (A. Ludwig, ‘Essay on Souza’s Aesthetics’, Souza, New Delhi, 1986, unpaginated).

Landscape painting has always been a cornerstone of Francis Newton Souza’s oeuvre, and remained at the heart of his practice throughout his illustrious career. From the picturesque scenes of Goa and Mumbai that he painted in the 1940s, the artist would go on the paint several views inspired by the natural landscapes and manmade structures he encountered in Europe, and later North America. Fellow artist Jagdish Swaminathan has described Souza as a “painter of cityscapes and religious themes. While in the latter he is loaded with a troubled presentiment, in the former he is singularly devoid of emotive inhibitions […] Souza’s cityscapes are the congealed visions of a mysterious world” (J. Swaminathan, ‘Souza’s Exhibition’, Lalit Kala Contemporary 40, March 1995, p. 31).

Souza began to gain acclaim for his iconic landscapes from the mid-1950s onward, when he was living in London, and examples of works from this period have been exhibited in several institutional shows since then. The artist painted this bold landscape, dominated by tones of red and black, in 1964, at a time when he had finally received critical acclaim and achieved commercial success in London. Titled Landscape of Hampstead, London, this painting offers one of the artist’s interpretations of the North London neighborhood where he lived at the time. Maximizing his use of the canvas, Souza constructs this cityscape from a series of 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 highly cubistic manner. The palette he uses suggests a nighttime scene, lit by a blood-red moon that simultaneously emphasizes and veils elements of the landscape.

Wavering between reality and fantasy, the moonlit buildings in this painting with their corniced roofs and overlapping forms also recall the Catholic architecture which informed so much of Souza’s oeuvre. The sheer strength of Souza’s signature black outline is only augmented by the thick red paint he layers over these forms, making the buildings seem to emerge out of the dark night sky as if of their own volition.

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