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Francis Newton Souza (Indian, 1924–2002)
LOT ID: 74502
Untitled ('The Pieta'), 1987

Acrylic, on canvas
82 х 97.3 in. (208.28 x 247.14 cm.)
Signed, 'Souza' and dated '87 lower right, front. A certificate of authenticity will accompany this work.
Lot description
F.N. Souza (Indian 1924-2002). "Untitled ( The Pieta)". 1987. Acrylic on Canvas. 82 x 97.30 inches as stretched. (208.3 cm x 247.1 cm)
Note: This work was until recently archivally stored as an unstretched rolled canvas. It was placed professionally on new stretchers by the owners of the painting recently and is in excellent overall condition(see images).

This lot marks the first time that this painting has come to the market and must be considered a major addition to the oeuvre of F.N. Souza, arguably the most famous Post-Modern and Contemporary Indian artist. 'The Pieta’ (1987), a major acrylic on canvas painting, is considered by his family and scholars to be Souza's autobiographical response to the death of his mother, Lily, in the same year. The symbolic representation of the dead Christ, cradled by his mother, the Virgin Mary as depicted in this vast work, embodies the complicated relationship between Souza and his mother. The colors of brilliant blue echo the colors that Mary wears in Renaissance images of The Pieta, as well as that of the sculpture depicting The Pieta that was inside the Church in Goa, where the artist grew up attending Catholic mass, he would have seen the kneeling image of Mary in blue holding the body of Christ in her lap his entire life.

The painting expresses his own unspeakable grief though personifying one of the most tender and powerful images of Christianity and the human condition. The monumental scale of the work reflects the 'size' of the relationship, the dimension of emotion where the child is returned to a place of unconditional love. The work is perhaps the most important in a series of this period where the artist executed a number of very large canvasses of religious theme, considered his important 'Mourning Series' roughly between 1985-9. These works are considered Museum-level works in scale, theme and level of painting.

'The Pieta' was first 'discovered' in Souza's Manhattan apartment after the artist's death (March 2002) when the photographer Andrew Barklem was commissioned to document the artist's estate. Rolled carefully around a plank of wood, hidden behind stacks of paintings, the work unfurled was an astonishing sight. The artist secreted this masterpiece in his personal collection denoting both intimate attachment and artistic significance in the artist’s oeuvre. Souza had a very close-life long relationship with his mother, who became a widow at the age of twenty-three.

In "Words and Lines" (1959 pp15) the artist writes, "My mother, she's a strapping, handsome woman. She smells richly of the womb. I have the nose of a fetus. My father died when I was born, like a beetle that dies having laid the egg." From the first line of the poem 'Mother of God' (reproduced in F.N. Souza, Religion & Erotica, Pub. 2005). "I am the seed of life planted in death."

Born in the Portuguese colony of Goa, Francis Newton Souza’s (1924-2002) expressionistic style and provocative work frequently draws upon personal life experiences in order to explore the dichotomy between adversity and perseverance. The confluence of his family’s Roman Catholic religion, along with the provocative Indian Art that surrounded his upbringing, produced stark juxtapositions which disquiet the viewer while alluring to their visual sensations. Often exploring the destructive qualities found in societies, Souza exposed hypocrisies and corruption alike to provide confrontational viewpoints through his art. As a founding member of the Progressive Artists’ Group of Bombay, Souza was the first post-independence Indian artist to achieve recognition in the Western world. In 1949 Souza made London his primary residence until 1967 when he made his way to New York to live and work until his death in 2002.

All images reproduced in this lot ©Estate of FN Souza/DACS photography Andrew Barklem 2002
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Untitled ('The Pieta') by Francis Newton Souza
  • Untitled ('The Pieta') by Francis Newton Souza
  • Untitled ('The Pieta') by Francis Newton Souza
  • Untitled ('The Pieta') by Francis Newton Souza
  • Untitled ('The Pieta') by Francis Newton Souza
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