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. 1 (for further genealogy please see footnote)
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.
However, Robin Howard's philanthropic pursuits were not limited to the arts. Responding to the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary in 1953, Howard became deeply distressed and sought to take action against this upset. In reaction to his vocalism and advocacy for Hungary, he was asked by the United Nations to establish the Hungarian Department, dealing with the placement and care of refugees and displaced persons looking for solace in the United Kingdom. His great humanitarianism led him to serve as Honorary Director of the United Nations International Services department from 1955-1963.
Howard's generosity was legendary. It gave him enormous pleasure to share his loves, from art, to dance to fine wine with friends and admirers. On one extraordinary occasion, where I had the chance to spend time with Robin, I asked if his interest in dance was a result of losing his legs. He paused, mused a little and replied that he did not think so, that his love of dance was much deeper than that, it was for him the most profound form of human communication, a force for good. On another occasion exemplary of Howard's generous disposition, a number of us enjoyed a double magnum of Krug 1955 and Robin's response to our enthusiasm and ardent appreciation was typical - he opened a second one.
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. A kindly anonymous donor paid him a stipend so that he could continue to create his ingenious canvases. 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. The unique double portrait by Souza depicting the artist and Howard illustrated in this preface (not included in sale) is a testimony to their friendship.
Over the next four decades, Francis Newton Souza became one of the most venerated Indian artists of the 20th century. His relationship with Robin Howard marked the genesis of an artistic career which has only recently come fully into the public view. The following four lots, (lots 20, 23, 25, 26) offered in this sale were formerly from the esteemed Collection of the late Robin Jared Stanley Howard CBE.
William Lorimer is a Director of Valuations at Christie's, London and was a close friend of the late Robin Howard CBE.
William Lorimer is a Director of valuations at Christie's and a close friend of the Late Robin Howard CBE.
Robin Jared Stanley Howard (1924-1989), was the eldest son of Sir Arthur Howard and the Lady Leonora Baldwin. His father was the grandson of Donald Alexander Smith, First Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal, the financier, Railway Baron, trader and noted philanthropist. Lord Strathcona was the 26th Governor of Hudson Bay Company, for whom he had worked for a record 75 years, Chairman of Anglo-Persian Oil and High Commissioner of Canada. Robin's mother Lorna was the second daughter of Stanley Baldwin, Earl Baldwin of Bewdley and three times Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1920s and 30s.
As Prime Minister, Baldwin steered the country through the general strike of 1926 and more significantly he piloted the monarchy and country through the abdication crisis of 1936-1937. Less well known is the importance of Baldwin's moderate policy towards India that culminated, despite much vociferous opposition, in the passing of the government of India Act in 1935.
It was through Robin Howard's maternal MacDonald great-grandmother that Robin was connected to an extraordinary galaxy of talent. His great-great aunt Georgina married Sir Edward Coley-Burne Jones, the marvelous pre-Raphaelite artist. One of her sisters married Sir Edward Poynter, a contemporary of Lord Leighton and Alma-Tadema and President of the Royal Academy from 1896. The fourth, Alice was the mother of the poet and author Rudyard Kipling, who wrote The Jungle Book in 1894, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907.
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, founding the legendary Bombay Progressives Artists Group in 1947. A master of line, Souza's forays into the human form (lots 23, 25 from the Howard collection along with lots 21, 22, 90-94, 101) 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 20, 26 from the Howard collection along with lots 96, 136,) capture our surroundings with remarkable sensitivity and Souza imbues his land and cityscapes (see cover lot) with a psychological virility that is as expressive and emotional as his portraiture.
Born in Goa, a small Portuguese Catholic colony on the southern India coast, Francis Newton Souza saw the death of both his father and eldest sister before he had turned 2 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 it 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. Souza explains, "As a child I was fascinated by the grandeur of the Church and by the stories of tortured saints my grandmother used to tell me' (E. Mullins, F. N. Souza, Pg 55.) However, the idealized faces of these Catholic saints which adorned his churches and cathedrals turned virulent and unforgiving in the hand of Souza. The artists felt that, 'Renaissance painters painted men and women making them look like angels. I paint for angels, to show them what men and women really look like.' (E. Mullins, F. N. Souza, 1962, p. 82.)
In this double portrait from 1954 (lot 23), Souza instills his un-idealized figures with Christian elements, painting ecclesiastic robes and the arrows indicative of St. Sebastian onto the figures. Man, as is often the case in works of Souza, is clothed, while the female figure remains naked and almost primitive in her rendering. The artist juxtaposes his priestly male with the seductive Eve-like female figure, yet ironically chooses to pierce both with the arrows of martyrdom, Sainthood and Christianity. St. Sebastian, a figure who repeatedly appears in Souza works, is historically an officer of the Imperial Roman army who aided imprisoned Christians. He was tied to a tree and shot by arrows, miraculously surviving only to be murdered shortly thereafter, the arrows, indicative of his resilience and loyalty to Christ, became his distinguishing attribute. St. Sebastian's importance grew during the 14th century bubonic plague, when villagers began to turn to him for guidance, equating the seemingly random boils of infection with the wounds from being shot by an army of unseen archers. The importance of this work is emphasized even further by the suggestion of Souza's own likeness in the male figure. In this case, Souza seems to be illustrating his own inner turmoil as he is pulled between the restrictions of the church and the contemptible but irresistible lure of sex and women. Interestingly, the artist, whose own features were permanently marred as a young child after enduring a vicious bout with smallpox, might have related to St. Sebastian in the same way as the 14th century villagers, both suffering scars due to traumatic illness.
The sexual prowess of women is confronted again in his work from 1959, Nyasa Negress with Flowers of Thorns. Like the Tahitian nudes of Paul Gauguin, Souza's nude possesses both a strong sexual aura and a sense of the primitive, the other and the unfamiliar. Mixing Georges Rouault's thick black lines with a cubistic structure, the artist gives the nude a sculptural quality that calls into mind the early 20th century work of Picasso, epitomized in his 1907 work, Demoiselles d'Avignon. The artist has reduced the facial features to a mask like countenance, collapsing perspective to depict multiple views of her face simultaneously. The faceted body of the Negress, is repeated in her accoutrements, her jewelry mimicking the cubistic forms of her figure giving the work a striking rhythm and composition. The Nyasa Negress is brazen, naked and powerful, demonstrating vigor and dynamism in the place of transitory beauty, a quality which Souza masterfully conveys. The stoicism and strength of the nude also demonstrates Souza's allegiance to classical Indian sculpture and the erotic carvings in India's temples. This work does not completely escape from Catholic intonations. The thorns which weave their way around the nude, beseech comparison to Christ's crucifixion headdress and the typically decorative flowers mentioned in the work's title are almost indistinguishable from their barb-like counterparts. Part of an important series of nudes during the 1950s-60s, comparisons to Nyasa Negress with Flowers and Thorns can be made to a slightly later work Black Nude, 1961, currently in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum and on loan to the Tate Britain.
Francis Newton Souza demonstrates the inherent tension between nature and civilization in his landscapes. His works, which often depict the sky as an equally viscous force against the buildings and trees below, become treatises on the conflating powers of god, man and the natural world. In his Landscape (lot 20) from 1960, Francis Newton Souza maximizes his use of the canvas, constructing his cityscape from a series of overlapping and highly faceted geometric forms. Collapsing depth of field, Souza circumvents a traditional one-point perspective allowing his architectonic structures to build tightly upon each other in a highly cubistic manner. The limited palette subtly disguises subject matter, highlighting instead the artist's skill with pattern, composition and form. The work wavers between reality and fiction with its corniced buildings, meandering ground line and piercing steeples, at times suggesting the catholic architecture which informed so much of Souza's oeuvre.
Again in Row of Red Houses with Trees, crimson buildings cut sharply into the thick inky sky which hangs over their roofs, suggesting not harmony but a tumultuous battle between two dissonant elements. In lot 27, from A Private English Collection, Souza juxtaposes a geometric cityscape against a looser more impressionistic rendering of trees and glowing sky. By the steeple structure and arched windows one can deduce that this is an image of a cathedral or church and its vertical orientation could be a gesture towards the ethereal heavens above. The artist's bold use of outline and faceted buildings conjure images of stained glass windows which fascinated him as young boy in Church. This important work which stands almost four feet tall truly demonstrates both Souza's technical ability as a painter and his ability to express a deep and complex range of emotion using only the simplest of life's elements.
Interesting also to note is the growing complexity of Souza's composition between the three land city - scapes dated from 1957 - 1960.