Oil on board
28 3/8 x 15 1/4 in. (72.1 x 38.7 cm.)
Signed and dated 'Souza / 1952' upper right and inscribed and dated 'F.N. SOUZA / STANDING NUDE / 1952' on reverse
Originally bought from Gallery One, London.
In 1947 M. F. Husain and F. N. Souza travelled together to New Delhi to visit the India Independence Exhibition at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The classical sculptures of ancient India had an immediate impact upon the two artists, and offered for both of them a visual vocabulary that was different from the Greco-Roman representation of the human form, that had influenced so much of Western Art. Husain adopted the postures of classical Indian sculpture, and converted their monumental forms into the iconography of his modernist paintings. For Souza, the impact of the exhibition was equally apparent in his drawings and paintings of the years immediately following the trip. The current lot, dated to 1952, shows the direct influence of classical Indian sculpture in his work. The dark female figure, naked except for multiple heavy bangles, appears to be a 'Souzaesque' version of the famous Dancing Girl bronze from Mohenjo Daro that now forms part of the National Museum Collection in New Delhi.
Mullins states 'Souza made a passionate study of Indian art, and was particularly moved by Indian bronzes - with their symbolism and their astonishing feeling for movement, and by the sublimely erotic carvings on the temples of Khajuraho. Both of these made a lasting impression on him, and were largely responsible for awakening the imagination of the young painter.' (Edwin Mullins, Souza, London, 1962, p. 16)
It is interesting to note that despite having moved to London in 1949, the female nudes in Souza's paintings remain largely inspired by classical Indian forms for many years to come, whilst his male figures begin to show a greater influence of classical western sources. It seems that the artist made an intentional distinction between the voluptuous and erotic female forms of the classical Indian tradition, in contrast to the staid and rigid forms of his male figures.
'Sin and sensuality: the two have grown together, tempting and mocking one another. It is this built-in conflict in Souza's work which supplies its restless, fighting quality and what I have called its 'dedicated vulgarity.' It is as if each painting were both an act of hate and an act of love, and he himself were torn between disgust and longing uncertain whether painting is a protective daydream or something unpleasant in his system to be purged away. Escapism or catharsis. The surface of a canvas thus becomes a battleground on which are fought out the fears and passions of one man's experience. On the dark side: ...horror of the flesh, ...the weight of sin and evil, sexual longing and despair, a sense of the ludicrous and the disgusting. Against this: the wonderment, the celebration of the flesh and of fulfilment, a delight with the naked grace of a women's body, ...and awe at the proximity and terrible power of god.' (E. Mullins, The Human and the Divine Predicament: New Paintings by F.N. Souza, exhibition catalogue, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1964, unpaginated)
Within Souza's paintings the formal clothes that men wear, both the suit and ties of the layperson and the robes of the clergy, are societal veneers of respectability that hide inner lusts, desires and corruptibility. Such figures provide a foil to the artist's female nudes who may ironically represent symbols of purity, or at the very least, figures worthy of admiration and veneration. Many of the tensions in Souza's paintings from this period appear to stem from his own experience of being brought up as a Catholic in India, where he was surrounded by religious imagery from within the Hindu and Buddhist traditions that openly embraced eroticism, but which Souza as a Christian was expected to reject.
Souza wrote '... as a Roman Catholic, born in Goa, I was familiar with the priests bellowing sermons from the pulpits against sex and immodesty particularly addressed to women, making them stricken with guilt. The Catholic men stood cocky in their suits and ties agreeing with the priests, lusting for naked women inwardly. Hypocrites!' (Yashodhara Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, New Delhi, 2001, p. 92)
About The Artist:
FRANCIS NEWTON SOUZA (1924 - 2002)