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Untitled (Seated Woman)

Untitled (Seated Woman)
signed and dated 'Souza 62' (lower right)
oil on satin laid on canvas
47 ¾ x 37 in. (121.3 x 94 cm.)
Painted in 1962
Private Collection, United Kingdom
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa mid-1990s

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Lot Essay

"My paintings are not a product of love or anger. My painting is a product of my libido. I am not making the error of confusing the reality of women, the beauty, with painted representation of women. When I'm painting, I am painting a picture - I am not confusing that with taking her to bed." (Artist statement, Souza 1940s-1990s, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 1993, unpaginated)

Francis Newton Souza's predilection for painting the female form is well known. In artistic terms, the female form was Souza's muse, providing him both a creative spark and an arena for experimentation and expression. The present painting offers viewers an eroticized yet intimate scene, in which the artist depicts a seated woman, in a state of partial undress in what appears to be their bedroom. There is a playful sense of performance, as if Souza has captured in paint a moment of romantic exhibitionism, as the sitter holds up her dress, revealing herself to her lover. The delicate detailing of her clothes, jewelry, face and body are contrasted with the implied movement of her hair and oversized hands and the distorted background, suggestive perhaps of overexposure or different focal lengths through a photographer’s lens - a playful allusion to the viewer as voyeur.

The present painting represents the epitome of Souza’s experimentation during a critical period of his career. Painted in 1962 at the height of his expressionistic style, the artist’s signature black weaving line separates layered and textured pools of gesturally applied color in this intimate portrait. The expressively worked background is suggestive of the headboard of a bed or hanging brocade, and Souza's use of white heightens his already vivid palette, giving this impressive painting an almost pastel-like quality.

Souza was constantly experimenting with materials, having an interest in different surfaces and textures and how each worked as a primary support for his paintings. This experimentation was originally borne out of necessity, when he could not afford high-quality canvas and had to use materials that were available to him to paint on instead. However, by 1962, Souza had established himself as a highly regarded member of the London School, having exhibited across Europe and been made the subject of a major monograph published by Anthony Blond that year. With the financial stability that came with his success, the artist's use of satin in the present work is probably evidence of his ambition rather than his need. The use of black satin as a support is quite rare in Souza's oeuvre, reserved only for significant works such as Red Curse and The Butcher, two of the most significant works by the artist to ever come to the market, both of which were painted the same year as the present lot. Whereas Souza's use of satin in these two works emphasized their exploration of violence and the grotesque, in the present portrait the material adds a layer of allusion through its sensuality and more typical use in women’s clothing. This reinforces the idea of an intimate, sexualized moment between Souza and the sitter in a highly experimental and unique example of what remained one of the artist's most iconic subjects across his career.

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