Diluting Francis Newton Souza

Francis Newton Souza‘s oeuvre was immense – however, the current fixation appears to be over his 1955 (or thereabouts) heads (portraits) and his landscapes. Nudes which are an important part of his oeuvre are mostly under-valued and not given their due.

In Western art  – some common traditions / studies include nudes , landscapes , and portraits .

peter paul ruben's leda swan
Peter Paul Rubens’s “Leda and the Swan”

In the recent past , in addition, the skull has become important e.g. Damien Hurst. Consisting of original (real) teeth the Skull was offered by the White Cube gallery for fifty million pounds (the  highest asked for price by a living artist)


Art need not be pretty and indeed a lot of western art is quite “dark”

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion circa 1944 Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Presented by Eric Hall 1953
Francis Bacon – Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion circa 1944

An artist needs to have his own style , his very own unique version in one or more of the above traditions to make a mark as an “modern artist”. Souza of course,  was inspired by many artists of his time and did them all (the styles/tradition) . In the words of Edward Mullins

Souza’s art straddles many traditions, but serves none.

Unfortunately when it comes to art in India – we seem to be white-washing our art (a bit). If one looks at the market for Souza, it would seem that the valuations are highest for benign works of art i.e. Art without any in your face nudity – in spite of the fact that nudes were a very strong part of Souza’s oeuvre. Ignoring Souza nudes is almost like ignoring Husain’s horses. Certainly in the 1970s for Indian art there were only two artists who experimented with Eroticism – Souza and Laxma Goud. Unfortunately for Laxma Goud his experiments in eroticism were in the form of etchings – which are even further disregarded (incorrectly so) in the Indian Art market.

laxma goud etching 1972

So what does an in-your-face Souza nude look like ? Below are examples of Souza over three decades, 60s, 40s (likely) and 50s.

souza nude

souza blue nude

souza front back nude

Compare to a classic Souza head

souza head

While the above work is corporate friendly (can be hung up in office walls) and is a really nice Souza head, as a collector one should not ignore the nudes as they portray more of Souzas ethos his mindset his life than many of his other works.

Just recently a beautiful nude (probably of Barbara Zincat – his companion with whom he left for the US – and therefore very important) , published in Mullins,  sold for a pittance – why? because as per a dealer in Delhi “nudes don’t sell”.

I did hear that it was bought by a Souza specialist and one of the smartest (and oldest) dealer in Indian Art in London for half the stated reserve. A 4ft x 2+ft “quality” canvas for 50 lakhs ! 

souza francis newton nude sothebys

If such knowledgeable art aficionados and experts in Souza are buying these nudes – then it is only a matter of time that they are given an appropriate and deserving valuation.

Indrajit Chatterjee

Disclaimer: I do own Souza but none of the art works above. I do own Laxma Goud etchings from the 1970s but not the one shown above. I have no commercial interest in any of the works in this aricle.

Image Credit : 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Leave a Reply