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. According to The Times of India Souza's expressionistic style sought to illustrate both low-life and high energy, "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 small-pox, 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 was that of a sewing machine. He attended St. Xavier's College in Bombay, but was expelled for drawing graffiti in the loo. He claimed he was only correcting the original graffiti because it was so bad but the priests didn't buy that. He studied at the India's premier art school, Sir J. J. School of Art, but was suspended in 1945 because of his support for the Quit India Movement.


After this he founded the Bombay Progressive Artists' Group to encourage Indian artists to participate in the international avant-garde. However, in 1949, after India became independent, he left the country for London. In early 1950s he started getting recognition for his works at Gallery One, North London. The Institute of Contemporary Arts included work of his in a 1954 exhibition, and other shows followed. His literary talents also helped his career after the publication of the autobiographical work Nirvana of a Maggot in Encounter, a journal then edited by Stephen Spender. His book Words and Lines published 1959 cemented his literary reputation.

Souza's career developed steadily, and he participated in several shows, receiving positive reviews from John Berger. His style was, as Berger pointed out,[2] 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.[3] In 2008, his painting Birth (1955) set a world auction record for the most expensive Indian painting sold till then by selling for $2.5 million (Rs 11.3 crore) at a Christie's auction. The buyer was the Harmony Arts Foundation run by Tina Ambani.

In June 2010 Christie's held a seminal auction of over 140 lots from the Souza Estate. Again many of Souza's masterpieces fetched very high prices, some several times the Christie's estimates.[4]

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

Public collections[edit]


  1. ^ a b God, sex & Souza
  2. ^ Summary of Souza's career
  3. ^ "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. 
  4. ^ Christie's - The Art of Souza: Property from the Estate of Francis Newton Souza

External links[edit]

See also[edit]