PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT CORPORATE COLLECTION
Oil on canvas
30 1/2 x 39 1/2 in. (77.5 x 100.4 cm.)
Signed and dated 'Souza 62' upper right
In the West, from the classical Greco-Roman period to the Renaissance, elements of the Still Life were imbued with symbolic or ritual significance. The tradition evolves into its own genre in the later Renaissance, and reaches its zenith with Dutch painting of the 17th century. In India, the tradition of Still Life painting was introduced comparatively late as part of the academic curriculum introduced by British Colonial educators in the mid-19th century. Pestonji Bomanji and M.V. Dhurandhar were early Indian exponents of the category, creating impressive examples painted in the formal academic style. Their focus became the play of light and dark within an intimate setting and the realistic rendering of textures and tones, but any hidden symbolism was, for the most part, overlooked.
Of the Indian modernists, it was Souza who took most readily to the genre, recognising in it the formal elements of the Western tradition, and a chance to explore his own fascination with Christian iconography. In a continued reflection of the strong, albeit complicated influence the Catholic Church had upon the artist, Souza's still life compositions almost always include some elements used in liturgical practice. In his own words, 'It was the Roman Catholic Church in Goa that gave me any ideas of images and image making.' (Edwin Mullins, F.N. Souza, London, 1962, p. 53)
Of the works themselves, Geeta Kapur states, 'They are mostly ornate vessels and sacred objects. These objects retain their ritual aspect both on account of the visual description and composition.' (Geeta Kapur, Contemporary Indian Artists, New Delhi, 1978, p. 29) In addition, there could also be things to eat and drink including fruit, fish, jugs of wine or bread, all objects that if not directly related to the Holy Communion, retain a Judeo-Christian symbolism.
'The point is, his objects belong neither to the intimate comforts of a home nor to the glamour of the market-place, both environments being specifically bourgeois in their origins. Very curiously in the object-world he reclaims the sense of the sacred that he so consciously drains from the human being and from God.' (ibid., p. 30)
The current work incorporates several of the key symbolic elements discussed above. The central object, on what could well be an altar-table, is a bright blue vase with flowers. On the right is a jug, similar in shape to an ecclesiastical wine vessel, appropriately painted in a deep claret, and scattered on the table are fish, fruit and other herbs or vegetables. Unlike works from the previous decade that were much more formal in both composition and content, the elements in this painting seem to subvert the rituals of the Church by introducing simple mundane objects that fall outside of the central elements of Christian religious practices.
Stylistically as well, the works of the 1960s are different from the preceding decade. The thick impasto paint and black outlines have been replaced by strong black lines, a feature that would remain prominent in the years ahead. As Mala Marwah says '....the linear punctuation remains the same. In his work, whether landscape, still-life, or portrait this delineation becomes a stylistic feature.' (Mala Marwah, 'Francis Newton Souza - Expression in Style', Lalit Kala Contemporary 22, September 1976, p. 4)
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About The Artist:
FRANCIS NEWTON SOUZA (1924 - 2002)