Francis Newton Souza

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F.N. Souza – Balzac Etcetera / CC-BY-SA Pravin Khatau Estate
Nationality Indian
Known for Painting, Drawing

Francis Newton Souza (April 12, 1924 - March 28, 2002), commonly referred to as F. N. Souza, was an Indian artist. He was a founding member of the Progressive Artists' Group of Bombay, and was the first post-independence Indian artist to achieve high recognition in the West. Souza's style exhibited both low-life and high energy. Neelam Raaj wrote in The Times of India:

With a few slashing lines and a raw, expressive energy, Francis Newton Souza stripped away all subterfuge. Be it the sluts or the suits, the seamy side of life or the steamy, the gnomish, pox-scarred boy from Goa who went on to become one of the first Indian artists to be feted in the salons of Europe, laid it bare.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in village of Saligao, Goa to Roman Catholic parents of Goud Saraswat Brahmin ancestry, he lost his father when he was three months old. When he survived an attack of smallpox, which left him scarred, his grateful mother named him Francis after the patron saint of Goa, St Francis Xavier. His mother was a seamstress and one of Souza's better-known paintings depicts a sewing machine. He attended St. Xavier's College in Bombay (now Mumbai), but was expelled for drawing graffiti in a toilet. He claimed he was only correcting the original graffiti because it was so bad, but the priests didn't accept that.

Souza studied at the Sir J. J. School of Art in Bombay, but was expelled in 1945 because of his support for the Quit India Movement.

Souza joined the Communist Party of India in 1947.[2]


In 1947 was a founder of the Bombay Progressive Artists' Group which encouraged Indian artists to participate in the international avant-garde.[2]

In 1948 Souza's paintings were shown at an exhibition in Burlington House in London. In 1949 Souza moved to London, where he initially struggled to make an impact as an artist and worked as a journalist. The Institute of Contemporary Arts included his work in a 1954 exhibition. His success as an artist took off following the publication in 1955 of his autobiographical essay Nirvana of a Maggot in Stephen Spender's Encounter magazine. Spender introduced Souza to the art dealer Victor Musgrave, the owner of Gallery One. Souza's 1955 exhibition sold out, leading to ongoing success[2]

In 1959 Souza published Words and Lines.[3]

Souza's career developed steadily, and he participated in several shows, receiving positive reviews from John Berger. His style was, as Berger pointed out,[4] deliberately eclectic: essentially Expressionist in character, but also drawing on the post-war Art Brut movement and elements of British Neo-romanticism. His work was often highly erotic. According to art historian Yashodhara Dalmia,

At the heart of Souza's creativity was the belief that society's destructive aspects shouldn't be suppressed, they should be aired and confronted. Be it the hypocrisy of the church, the corruption of the upper classes or the repression of sexuality in a country that has a Khajuraho, he was uncovering the underbelly of existence.[1]

After 1967 he settled in New York, but returned to India shortly before his death, Souza was buried in Sewri cemetery in Mumbai, in a quiet funeral on March 30, 2002.


In recent years Souza's Paintings have been sold for over a million dollars.[5] In 2008, his painting Birth (1955) set a world auction record for the most expensive Indian painting sold till then by selling for US$2.5 million (Rs 11.3 crore) at a Christie's auction.

In June 2010 Christie's held an auction of over 140 lots from the Souza Estate. Many of Souza's works fetched very high prices, some several times Christie's estimates.[6]

A purported 1963 painting by Souza appeared on the BBC Antiques Road Show in February 2009.

Public collections[edit]


  1. ^ a b Raaj, Neelam (5 May 2010). "God, sex & Souza". The Times of India. Retrieved 22 November 2014.  (also available here)
  2. ^ a b c Wood, Christopher P (17 June 2002). "FN Souza India's first modern artist". The Guardian (London). 
  3. ^ Souza, F. N. (1959). Words and lines. London: Villiers / Scorpion Press. OCLC 501036319. 
  4. ^ Summary of Souza's career This is a tertiary source that clearly includes information from other sources but does not name them.
  5. ^ "Sale of a painting by the late Indian painter Francis Newton Souza has set a record for an Indian work of art". BBC News. 13 June 2008. Retrieved 20 December 2010. 
  6. ^ Christie's - The Art of Souza: Property from the Estate of Francis Newton Souza
  7. ^ "Supper at Emmaus with the Believer and the Sceptic by Francis Newton Souza". Your Paintings. BBC. Retrieved 23 November 2014. 

Further reading[edit]