The Politicians

The Politicians
titled, inscribed and dated '"The Politicians" / F. N. SOUZA / 59' (on the reverse)
oil on board
48 x 39 ¼ in. (121.9 x 99.6 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. 79 (illustrated)

Lot Essay

The Politicians overtly addresses Francis Newton Souza’s skepticism towards figures of authority and power in contemporary society. This deep suspicion towards those that wielded power can be traced back fifteen years earlier when Souza's Marxist sympathies led him to become a member of the Indian Communist Party. In fact, it was Souza’s outspoken, strong beliefs that fuelled the controversy that resulted in his emigration to the United Kingdom in 1949. Further back still, Souza’s oeuvre was fundamentally influenced by his almost obsessive disdain for the Catholic Church. In his landmark book, Words & Lines published the same year as this painting, Souza speaks of “others one meets in Goa who take priesthood and make it a mercenary end. The sacerdotal profession is a lucrative business there.” (F. N. Souza, Words & Lines, London, 1959, p. 15)

The Politicians is the evolution and indeed synthesis of these themes in Souza’s oeuvre, created at a moment in world politics where the specter of the Cold War and the threat of annihilation loomed large. Souza was erudite and articulate, especially when it came to discussing and indeed writing about political and social concerns, and he would unquestionably have been acutely aware of the political climate of the time. 1959 in the United Kingdom was particularly politically significant as it was a general election year, contested by the right leaning Harold Macmillan of the Conservatives and the left leaning Hugh Gaitskell of Labour. Macmillan was ultimately victorious, boasting an increased Conservative majority. As the two most prominent figures in British politics it is most likely that they are the inspiration for Souza’s two figures in this painting.

Despite Souza’s Marxist sympathies of the past, by 1959 he had become disenchanted with both the left and right of politics due to the politicians who represented these ideals. He writes in Words & Lines on this very subject, saying, “Presumptive politics are left in the left and right hands of fidgety men with twitching fingers. In certain quarters, presumptuous politicians play ballistics; a big shot today is shot tomorrow behind the folds of a heavy curtain […] eyes fixed on the extreme left and right side of his head so as not to be taken unawares by one side or the other." (F. N. Souza, Words & Lines, London, 1959, p. 23) The Politicians, encapsulates this sentiment with two darkly draped figures with subtle decoration, one on the left and another on the right. They appear interchangeable, simultaneously specific and anonymous.

This powerful painting also retains Souza’s characteristic playfulness. The pink faces of the figures recall the expression ‘strike me pink’, alluding to astonishment or indignation, a phrase which Souza also used in Words & Lines. The iconic crosshatching used in the faces adds a deeper layer to Souza’s sardonic caricature of the faceless, so-called presumptive politicians at play. In today's complex political climate, this painting and Souza's witty observations resonate as much as they did in 1959.

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

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