In 1949 Francis Newton Souza boarded a ship and, along with his first wife Maria, moved to London. Post-War London was not however the romanticised melting pot of creative and artistic acceptance that Souza had envisaged. London was harsh and unforgiving, particularly for a penniless bohemian artist from India. Edwin Mullins described Souza's surprise at the environment he found in London: "He remembers that the few galleries which exhibited modern art were mostly run by foreigners [...] On top of this he found the average Englishman even less concerned with art than the people of Bombay. There was not even a Minister of Culture! What was more, food was rationed!" (E. Mullins, Souza, London, 1962, p.19)
Souza was able to see and absorb the work of European master painters. He visited the National Gallery and was astounded to find the average Englishman largely indifferent to this readily available artistic heritage which hitherto he had only experienced in reproductions.
Front-Back Nude was painted in 1950, a year after Souza arrived in London. It was perhaps here that Souza began to absorb the elements of African and Primitive art so prevalent in European Modernism. This influence is seen in the stylised features and modular forms of this female nude, as well as in the bold use of elementary colours. However, the present painting also reveals Souza's uneasiness with London life and resonates with a powerful nostalgia for his artistic heartland of India. This sentiment of whimsical longing is captured in the soft features of this female nude.
This subtle, sensuous and tender portrayal of an Indian girl adorned in classical ornamentation and jewellery reveals that Souza's inspiration also comes from the Indian temple sculpture of Mathura and Khajuraho. Though the present painting is an early example of the artist's preference for depicting robust, voluptuous women in bold frontal poses, it is a far cry from the more overt, salacious nudes which he would so frequently depict a few years later. The use of earrings, a nose ring and long braided hair would become perennial signifiers of the Indian woman throughout Souza's career. This innovative combination of front and back views of the protagonist, is perhaps a way of condensing the sensuous copulating couples found in Indian sculptures into a singular monolithic form, giving the work a totemic potency. Front-Back Nude is imbued with a rare sense of innocence and longing; looking both backwards and forwards as he searched for new beginnings unknowingly on the precipice of success.