Francis Newton Souza's 1961 Pope

Francis Newton Souza was born in 1924 in Saligao, Goa. He was expelled for participating in the Quit India Movement while studying at the Sir J J School of Art in Mumbai. In 1947, he founded the Progressive Artists' Group along with S H Raza, M F Husain, and K H Ara, among others. Souza's style created thought-provoking and powerful images.

His repertoire of subjects covered still life, landscapes, nudes, and icons of Christianity in a distorted form. In his drawings, he managed to capture fine details in his forms. He also used a combination of crosshatched strokes that made up the overall structure of his subject.

Although Souza had a complicated relationship with Catholicism, the visual culture of Catholicism had a heavy influence on his work. He was brought up as a Goan Christian by his grandmother and moved to Bombay when he was thirteen years old. Souza was enthralled by the various traditions of the Church and its representatives. Later, he was admitted to St. Xavier's High School preparatory to study Latin and become a priest. However, Souza was eventually expelled from school by the principal, Father Sologran, at 16 for avoiding work and drawing pornographic images in the school bathroom.

His relationship with his religion was strained since he disagreed with certain Catholic representatives' greed and power. He believed that the grandeur of the Church was given far more importance while certain people were treated differently than other Christians. Many of his works depict the treatment of Catholic subjects, the crucifixion, the Pope, and the Church. These crucial works often depict Souza's loss of faith in religion.

F.N. Souza, Pope

Lot #24

F N Souza
Oil on canvas
41 x 21 in 
Signed verso

Starting Bid: 1,10,00,000

Estimate: 1,20,00,000 - 1,50,00,000

[Prinseps' Modern Art and Contemporary Sale are now live for proxy bidding. Live bidding opens at 7 P.M. on November 17th]

A comparable work:-

Black Pope, F.N. Souza

Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002)

Black Pope
Oil on canvas
40" x 30" 
Sold: USD 240,100
Source: Christie’s 2008

Up for auction on the 17th of November, this painting features a figure that can be identified as the Pope. In the figure, we can find the mantum (robe), papal tiara, and stole, all of which are aspects of the Papal regalia. In this radical work, the papal tiara or mitre is purposely left out the frame and only a glimpse (the filigree) can be seen. The figure’s body language makes him come across as grim, and difficult to approach. Souza seems to indicate the Pope is not meant to be revered and hints at the corruption in the catholic church.

Francis Bacon, Study after Velasquez

Souza and Francis Bacon were contemporaries in London. Francis Bacon’s painting “Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X 1953” also has a similar feature with the papal tiara or mitre mostly missing.

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