Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002)
Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002)

Black Pope

Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002)
Black Pope
signed and dated 'Souza 65' (upper right); signed, inscribed, titled and dated 'F.N. SOUZA Black Pope - 1965 oil on canvas 40" x 30" Col: Grosvenor Gallery' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 1965
Grosvenor Gallery, London
A. Kurtha, Francis Newton Souza 1924 - 2002; Bridging Western and Indian Modern Art, Ahmedabad, 2006, p. 39, illustrated

Lot Essay

Souza's series of black paintings serve as a radical departure within his oeuvre. Differing critical views on Souza's source of inspiration have alternatively suggested Francisco de Goya's Pinturas Negras series as well as the monochromatic works by Yves Klein. Souza was exposed to the works of conceptual artist Yves Klein, as both were exhibiting in Paris at the Iris Clert Gallery throughout the fifties and sixties and Souza occasionally attended Klein's notorious exhibitions.

A stylistic debt may also be argued towards Francis Bacon for this particular work in both the subject matter and composition of the work. Bacon himself has described in interviews his obsession with Velazquez's 1650 portrait of Pope Innocent X and his iconic series of Pope works has since become canonical for 20th century art.

Souza's fascination and ambivalence towards the Catholic Church have long been documented. Both Bacon and Souza use violent brushstroke to depict the dichotomy between the outward holiness of the figure and the almost bestial emotional terrain underneath.

Instances of black figuration in Souza's work surfaced first during the mid-1950s and continued throughout the artist's stay in London, culminating in the entire exhibition of black paintings, entitled Black on Black at Grosvenor Gallery, London in 1966. Souza also used these colors to deliberately build up the paint's surface, creating a relief-like texture to the canvases that borders on the sculptural.

Many critics have suggested that Souza's black paintings represent one of the many pinnacles of creativity for the artist, their monotone palette focusing attention on Souza's mastery of line and impasto, while providing a clear and unmediated window into the troubled soul of the painter.

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