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Untitled (Woman in Garters)

Untitled (Woman in Garters)
signed and dated 'Souza 61' (upper left)
oil on canvas
50 ½ x 30 ¾ in. (128.3 x 78.1 cm.)
Painted in 1961
Osian's Mumbai, 26 March 2004, lot 52
Acquired from the above by the present owner
R. Dean and G. Tillotson, eds., Modern Indian Painting: Jane & Kito de Boer Collection, Ahmedabad, 2019, p. 143 (illustrated)

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Lot Essay

"The bare-breasted, unashamedly sexual women made by Souza are by now well-known. Yet with each encounter we are faced afresh with their voluptuous sexuality. A fact often overlooked is the tenderness, bordering on a caress with which the feminine contours are drawn." (Y. Dalmia, The Demonic Line, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2001, p. 6)

The evolution of Francis Newton Souza’s oeuvre may be traced by the shifts in form and content in his treatment of the female figure. Untitled (Woman in Garters) was painted during a period where there was a fundamental change in the artist's representation of women, particularly as nudes. In the early 1960s, the delicate features that characterized many of the women of the previous decade mutated and transformed as Souza abandoned naturalism for expressionism and even abstraction. The present painting encapsulates Souza’s increasing sexualization of women with asymmetrical distorted heads, bodies and facial features. The jewelry and hair pins that symbolically ornamented Souza’s nudes of the 1950s have been replaced here with garters and stockings that emphasize the already hyper-exaggerated curves of her figure. The figure's curvilinear forms further allude to classical Indian temple sculpture seen at sites such as Khajuraho as if in the present painting, Souza is creating sculpture in paint.

This almost extra-terrestrial figure is rendered in garish red, with only touches of bright greens, yellows and blues. Untitled (Woman in Garters) was painted in 1961 during a period where the artist experimented with the versatility of colour. Red traditionally was the gods color in classical antiquity, and is associated with passion, violence, lust and love, imbuing this painting with emotional resonance.

The use of a non-naturalistic palette and abstracted curved forms in this portrait of a dehumanized, robot-like woman also pays homage to Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon, both of whom Souza had met and admired. At this time, Souza was immersed in the vibrant, bohemian London of the 1960s, a critical period of exchange between likeminded artists and their contemporaries. It is possible that the sitter in Untitled (Woman in Garters) may in fact be Henrietta Moraes, a denizen of the Colony Room, Soho, and a muse of a number of important British artists in the mid-1960s. Henrietta was born in India and later married the Goan writer and poet Dom Moraes, a close friend of Souza. Both Bacon and Lucian Freud painted Henrietta several times over the same period as the present painting.

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