“I am one of the few painters who live entirely on his art without resort to teaching or commercial portraits. As for my art, I can confidently say that I am not influenced by anyone and that I am not experimenting”, this self-quote aptly describes Francis Newton Souza (1924 –2002), the person and the artist. Titled ‘Souza – The Enfant Terrible’, Bid & Hammer’s upcoming sale is a monographic auction of select paintings, books & letters spanning a decade from 1980 to 1990. Sourced from the collections of eminent art critic, taste-maker, and influencer K. B. Goel (1930 –2018), the never-before-seen works are of the highest quality as Souza told Goel that these were some of the finest works he had produced. Even K. B. Goel had the knack to pick unusual works at shows, to write about, as his aesthetic sensibilities were avant-garde.

A book titled KB Goel – Critical Writings on Art 1957-1998 was published recently by the Sher-gil Sundaram Arts Foundation along with Tulika Books that is a tribute to him. M. F Husain had once remarked of him “K.B. Goel is an original think tank…we just paint.” Such was the genius and clout of K.B Goel that Souza too admired and respected him though he was initially critical of Souza and the Progressive Artists Group.

Ankush Dadha, director of Bid & Hammer, said: “We are grateful to Dr. P. L Goel for giving us complete access to the personal letters, photographs and notes from Souza to their family and vice-versa, that sheds light on a deep camaraderie of intellectuals and how the friendship of Souza and her husband K.B Goel developed and lasted a lifetime”. The artist habitually presented works to “Goel and family” during his annual visits to India and the works in this auction, covering various genres such as landscapes, portraits & nudes, comprise some of these gifts, giving collectors a chance to acquire works that they will truly cherish.

Portratit in Blue – F N Souza, 1984
Portratit in Blue – F N Souza, 1984

Portrait in Blue, an oil on canvas dated 1984, is a typical Souza head. Sized 30 x 24 inches, the catalogue note on it reads “The subject of a Souza painting is Souza himself and the expressionist sensibility gives vent to its emotion by spontaneously loaded brushwork”. The artwork is estimated at Rs 30 – 40 lakhs. Landscape in Green is a large-sized acrylic on canvas from 1985 estimated at Rs 55 – 75 lakhs. In the words of K.B. Goel, the illustration on this oeuvre reads “The Souza landscapes exhibit a preconceived order; the visual logic of the eye is dominated by the discipline of the hand: a preference for what comes after meditation over the improvization and form over action”. There are two chemical alterations on magazine papers as well, one of which “Five Nudes” showcases the sexual voyeurism of Souza, for which he is best remembered, and the same is beautifully captured by Goel in comparison with James Joyce “ Sex is an escape from a time-structured consciousness: like Joyce who embraced the modern spirit which he described as returned medievalism, Souza goes medieval with Khajuraho as his Ireland, of which the landscape is the pleasure garden”.

Up for grabs alongside autographed & inscribed hard-to-find books are personal letters. In one of the letters dated June 21, 1984, written from his apartment in New York, Souza rhetorically asks Goel “Are Indian artists, the majority of them, effeminate? Tough guys like me, Husain, even Swaminathan, are rare, eh?”.  Spanning pages, directly by the hand of a celebrated artist, to an intellectual and respected critic of the time, these letters shed light on the persona of Souza the artist and human-being, and co-relate the thought process to his works for posterity. These paintings and collectibles will surely occupy a pride of place in the winning buyer’s collection.

Some of the artworks are expected to sell at record prices, given their strong provenance, but the auction house prefers being tight-lipped about which of the works, as the format of the auction is ‘Silent Bids’ wherein one has the opportunity to buy works in an open auction yet remain discreet. The auction is from 14th – 17th April 2021 and bidding is by prior registration.