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"Souza is a painter with a powerful and strange personal vision. His paintings are neither primitive nor 'cultured'. They either move you by their stark interpretation of the visual world, or they repel you. They do not reach out into the metaphysical unknown, or suggest the fascination of primeval forces, or dwell upon the momentous juxtaposition of crimson and cerise. He is an image-maker and not an aesthete or theorist. These are earth paintings, and their impact lies in the artist's power to distort and strengthen the eye's images of this world, and to produce an effect almost shocking in its intensity." (Edwin Mullins, Souza, London, 1962, p. 33).
Edwin Mullins wrote these provocative words in his seminal publication on Francis Newton Souza in 1962. Over the next four decades, Souza's talent and recognition swelled to previously unimaginable proportions making him one of the most venerated Indian artists of the 20th century.
Believing the works of previous Indian artists to be overly sentimental, Francis Newton Souza looked to Western Modernism for inspiration on how to radicalize and shock the South Asian art world, becoming a founding member of the legendary Bombay Progressives Artists Group in 1947. A master of line, Souza's forays into the human form (lots 10, 16, 40, 41, 42, and 53) are well documented and his works successfully explore a wide range of physiognomies from the most sublime of female nudes to riotous and tortured figural forms. His landscapes (lots 43, 62, 67, 79) capture our surroundings with remarkable sensitivity and Souza imbues his land and cityscapes with a psychological virility that is as expressive and emotional as his portraiture.
Born in Goa, the small Portuguese Catholic colony on the southern Indian coast, Francis Newton Souza saw the death of both his father and eldest sister before he had turned two years old. Moving with his widowed mother to Mumbai shortly thereafter, Catholicism remained an important part of his upbringing. However, Souza had a contentious relationship with the Catholic Church, captivated by it during his youth only to question its authority deeply, later in life. The artist's early works mix elements of the Catholic imagery found in his birthplace with stylistic techniques of western modernism, his paintings suggesting the heavy black lines of Georges Rouault and tumultuous brush strokes of Chaim Soutine.
Francis Newton Souza demonstrates the inherent tension between nature and civilization in his landscapes. His works, which often depict the sky as a viscous force against the buildings and trees below, become treatises on the conflating powers of god, man and the environment. In his Landscape with Planet (lot 9) from 1962, Francis Newton Souza constructs his cityscape from a series of overlapping and highly faceted geometric forms. Collapsing depth of field, the artist circumvents a traditional one-point perspective allowing his architectonic structures to build tightly upon each other in a highly cubistic manner. His colour palette refuses to coincide with nature's predicated hues, highlighting instead the artist's skill with pattern, composition and form. Souza expertly uses line to underscore this clash between the natural and the manmade, interrupting a geometrically oriented city with wavering diagonals seen in both the trees and terrain.