Robin Jared Stanley Howard's (1924 - 1989) deep passion and unsparing patronage of the arts began with a love of modern dance and spread to almost every genre of creative expression from music to modern art. As the eldest son of Sir Arthur Howard and Lady Lorna Baldwin, daughter of Stanley Baldwin, the British Prime Minister in the 1920s and 30s, Robin Howard's youth was marked by a grave physical trauma. Fighting with gallantry in the Scots Guards during the Second World War, Howard lost both of his legs in battle the last year of conflict. Returning to London in the 1950s, he turned away from his previous ambition of becoming a lawyer, instead purchasing various hotels throughout England, the first of which became The Gore Hotel in Queensgate, South Kensington. Establishing a reputation for excellent cuisine and elegant lodging, Howard's passion for wine revealed itself when the hotel rightly boasted of having London's longest wine list. Robin Howard's vision for life, from his choice to invest in hotels to his patronage of the arts was brilliantly avant-garde and ahead of its time. Coming from a familial background, steeped in the British aristocracy, Howard was able to look beyond the immediate confines of his social set, embracing and inspiring innovative and incredibly influential ideas in art, music, dance and almost every other aspect of culture he graced with his involvement.
Howard's foray into the arts began chiefly with his discovery and love affair with modern dance. In 1954, Martha Graham brought her contemporary dance company to the United Kingdom for the first time, fortuitously choosing to stay at The Gore. Upon viewing their free-flowing and expressive dance form, Howard was overwhelmed, encouraging Graham to return to Britain and perform at the Edinburgh festival, personally guaranteeing to underwrite the expenses of the production. From then on, Howard became dedicated to bringing modern dance to England and in 1966 he founded the London Contemporary Dance Trust, inviting Robert Cohan, one of Graham's principle dancers, to become artistic director of the school.
Robin Howard's first introduction to Francis Newton Souza and Modern Indian Art came from his involvement with Gallery One in London. Directed by the famed art dealer and poet, Victor Musgrave, the gallery, located in London's bohemian SoHo District, was notorious for both his refusal to show any known artists and its program focusing on the new and shocking genre of Outsider art. Howard's involvement in this extremely influential and avant-garde gallery was great, as he was a silent investor in Musgrave's project. When Souza arrived in London in the 1950s he was destitute and flat broke. He received a stipend from an anonymous donor. Although this tantalizing connection cannot be proved so long after the event, family lore relates that the anonymous benefactor was in fact Robin Howard. Exhibited alongside artists like Jean Dubuffet, the Fluxus Collective, Yves Klein, Nam June Paik, and Bridget Riley, Francis Newton Souza had several important solo shows there beginning in 1955. It was Robin Howard personally who became captivated by the vivacious talent of Souza, encouraging him to submit works for his first major exhibition in London.
His relationship with Robin Howard marked the genesis of an artistic career which has only recently come fully into the public view. The following lot, offered in this sale was formerly from the esteemed Collection of the late Robin Jared Stanley Howard CBE.
Victor Musgrave, my dealer, also managed to find me an enterprising Englishman, Mr. Robin Howard, (who's now the "angel" for the London Dance Company and introduced Martha Graham in England), who became my patron and collected my work for many years. (F. N. Souza, For Varsha, written interview, undated, p. 10)
A tour de force from the Collection of the late Robin Howard CBE, Large Head (1962) was exhibited at the artist's Gallery One solo exhibition of the same year. It bears witness to a powerfully symbiotic relationship very likely also alluded to in the artist's autobiography: Had it not been for Stephen Spender, who helped me with sums of money, buying my paintings, publishing my articles; and for Mr. Harold Kovner whom I met in Paris in 1956 and has since been buying my work [...]; and at present, for an English collector from whom I get a monthly remuneration for paintings I have not yet painted; [...] I could not have been able to remain dedicated to my work. (F. N. Souza, A Fragment of Autobiography, Words and Lines, London, 1959, p. 7)
I started using more than two eyes, numerous eyes and fingers on my paintings and drawings of human figures when I realised what it meant to have the superfluous and so not need the necessary. Why should I be sparse and parsimonious when not only this world, but worlds in space are open to me? I have everything to use at my disposal. (F. N. Souza, quoted in Notes, F N SOUZA, exhibition catalogue, Gallery One, London, 1961, p. 1, originally from the artist's diary, 9 January, 1961)
Perpetually rigorous in debating cutting-edge intellectual, artistic and socio-political developments at this significant point in his career, Souza perfected his raw and highly idiosyncratic style in Large Head. A towering masterpiece in form and scale, this monumental composition references the artist's interest in notions of biological mutation and potential nuclear threat derived from historical events of the time. Conceived using "everything [...] at my disposal" the artist intended this unique work be interpreted on multiple levels. Harmonizing the tension between force and restraint, the composition is marked by vigorous, layered strokes which become virtual traces of imagined sensations. This boldly omniscient extra-sensory, multi-eyed hybrid form oscillates between being portrait of a crowned monarch and the head of a man in suit and tie. Yet the tie, collar and chin resemble a chalice which sits at the lower centre of the picture plane and a landscape of hair, cleverly reminiscent of foliage, further indicate that Large Head simultaneously embodies some of the artist's most characteristic elements within this one skilful composition. Enhanced by the artist's choice of neutral ground which here stands as virtual darkness when juxtaposed alongside the otherwise golden tones and striking highlights, Souza's absolute surety of execution and compositional dynamism is stunningly evident at this pivotal stage in his oeuvre.
Large Head additionally presents Souza's remarkable skill as draughtsman, on a grand scale. Bold, sinewy lines flow freely alongside areas of staid, hatched delineation. A fantastical yet recognizably human drawing in paint, it is an important intellectual and critical tour de force depicting imagined possibility and cultural theory in the early 1960s.