Standing Nude in City Background

Standing Nude in City Background
signed and dated 'Souza 59' (upper left); further inscribed, titled and dated 'F. N. SOUZA / "Standing nude / in city background" / 1959' (on the reverse)
oil on board
48 x 24 in. (121.9 x 60.9 cm.)
Painted in 1959
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
A. Kurtha, Francis Newton Souza: Bridging Western and Indian Modern Art, Ahmedabad, 2006, p. 194 (illustrated)

Lot Essay

The nude female form was a subject of both torment and fascination for Francis Newton Souza. Frequently revisiting this archetype throughout his career, Souza’s extended and varying engagement with the figure of the woman is well documented. These works explore a wide range of physiognomies from the most sublime and tender nudes to distorted and grotesque figures, expressing Souza’s complex views on the human condition, corruption, sexuality and religion.

The monumental protagonist of this 1959 painting, with her unusually long limbs, dominates the frame and the towering cityscape that Souza situates her in. Although her gaze is direct, Souza has not sexualized or disfigured her appearance. Instead she is demure and luminous, almost like an otherworldly apparition against the night sky. Combining his characteristic thick black outlines with an almost sculptural construction using impasto, the artist gives this nude a powerful statuesque presence that calls to mind Indian temple carvings. Souza also uses fine cross-hatched lines to heighten the definition of the figure and the architectural structures around her, creating a halo-like glow that evokes a sense of the other and the unfamiliar.

Souza’s “[…] depiction of blatantly nude women was something of an act of defiance against the forbidden act. But as always, impacted on this was the mature realisation of the prudish hypocrisy of society that repressed its own undercurrents of smut and corruption. In many ways his women baring their thighs or sitting nude astride a chair, were in open defiance of the hypocritical mores of society. At all times, even at their demonic best, his women were monumental.” (Y. Dalmia, Souza in London, New Delhi, 2004, p. 12)

In the cityscape behind this nude, steeples and crosses suggest a church, which for Souza was the most direct symbol of the controlling patrimony and hypocrisy he had come to associate with his Roman Catholic upbringing. Combining sex and religion, the two themes that defined Souza’s practice in the 1950s, this painting represents the artist’s virulent response to the socio-religious norms of the time and the insincere, powerful men who were tasked with enforcing them.

For further discussion of Souza's years in London, please see lot 230.

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