Bonhams to auction work by Francis Newton Souza

. January 22, 2012 . 0 Comments

One of India’s most talented and prolific artists of the 20th century, Francis Newton Souza, spent a significant part of his career working in the UK, living for a while in Hampstead. His paintings of the area are among some of his finest from that period.

Francis Newton Souza, Still Life with Fish and Bread. Estimate: £100,000 to £150,000. Photo: Bonhams.

Having moved to London in 1949 Souza produced some of his best work in the capital in the late 1950s and early 1960s whilst represented by Victor Musgrave’s Gallery One in Mayfair. Souza’s work, influenced by his surroundings as much as his Christian upbringing in Goa, features a variety of subjects, including landscapes, portraits as well as works referencing Christian iconography.

Bonhams have been offering pieces by Souza for over ten years and present the important work, Still Life with Fish and Bread, set to feature in our upcoming sale of Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art on the 7th June. The painting estimated to sell for £100,000 to £150,000 was exhibited at Gallery One and was published in the book ‘Souza’ by Edwin Mullins, an art critic and academic. It comes from a private collection in the USA, where it has been since the late 1960s.

In 1965, Souza, who was brought up as a strict Catholic, outraged public opinion in Britain when at the age of 40 he married his third wife, 17-year-old Barbara Zinkant. He and his new bride were forced to flee the country after negative press coverage and they settled in New York where Souza fell on hard times and was declared bankrupt. Over the years he gave away many of his paintings to friends, pictures which are now fetching six figure sums and more. Today Britain is belatedly waking up to the fact that it lost one of its greatest 20th century artists.

In his book `F.N. Souza Religion & Erotica’, the British musician and entertainer, George Melly, a friend of the Souza, describes in a preface the problems faced by the artist: “What went wrong was nothing to do with the work. The reaction of the press, who showed little interest in modern art unless it was in some ways shocking or incomprehensible, were onto him like ravening vultures.”

“Souza had a wonderfully sour colour sense and slashing line. His erotic pictures were to do with the mutual and equal pleasures of sex; they were not, in the contemporary sense, at all pornographic, but they were open and honest and clearly conceived by a believer in the joy available to lovers without inhibition or guilt.”

Melly concludes: “This book has revived all my early admiration for this most complicated but powerfully committed man. As the perceptive art critic, John Berger, wrote of him: `He straddles many traditions, but serves none.’ Not a bad epitaph. On his gravestone are the words `Nature is the Sole Principle’.

Category: Fine Art

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