Francis Newton Souza was a British Asian artist. He was a founding member of the Progressive Artists’ Group of Bombay. Souza’s style exhibited both decadence and primitivism.
In 1948, Souza’s paintings were shown in London’s Burlington House as part of an exhibition on Indian Art. However, his work was attacked by the Goan community in Mumbai during an exhibition at Chemould Frames. Souza emigrated to London in 1949, following several complaints against him to the police from the Indian public for obscenity.
He initially struggled to make an impact as an artist in the UK. His Goan wife Maria took on multiple jobs in order to support their family.
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. Souza’s 1955 exhibit at Musgrave’s Gallery One sold out, leading to ongoing success. Souza was one of five artists on the UK shortlist for the 1958 Guggenheim International Award for his 1955 painting Birth.
In 1959, Souza published his autobiographical Words and Lines.
Souza’s career developed steadily, and he participated in several shows, receiving positive reviews from John Berger. According to Berger, Souza’s style “was deliberately eclectic: essentially Expressionist in character”, but “also drawing on the post-war Art Brut movement and elements of British Neo-romanticism”
The renowned Indian artist, M.F. Husain, recognized F. N. Souza as his mentor. In recent years, Souza’s paintings have been sold for over a million dollars. His painting Birth (1955) depicting his mistress Liselotte posing naked while pregnant with their first daughter Keren, set a world auction record in 2008 for the most expensive “Indian” painting sold till then when it was purchased by Tina Ambani for US$2.5 million (Rs 11.3 crore) at a Christie’s auction. In 2015, the painting Birth was resold to Kiran Nadar at Christie’s in New York, fetching more than US$4 million.