Significance of Female Encounters in the Paintings of F. N. Souza

Mandakini Sharma, Ila Gupta & P. N. Jha

IIT Roorkee, India

Vol. 1, No. 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/bp.v1n1.09


Women and painting are coupled with each other from the dawn of the art throughout the world. In Indian painting, women have frequently been depicted from the ancient era till today. In this context, their beauty and physical charm are more preferred than any significant values. In modern Indian painting, Amrita Sher-Gill is probably the first Indian female artist, who contributed some significant themes in respect of womanhood during 19th century.  Then, many prominent artists portrayed woman in various forms but Francis Newton Souza has represented them in a strange but powerful manner. His paintings played an indispensable role to give Indian art a new direction and to enhance its true realm in respect of ‘modern’. He has done thousands of sketches and paintings on woman in naked and semi-naked condition but his approach is very singular than that of others.  Beauty and noble attitude of woman are entirely avoided by him and only the vicious and distorted figures are depicted. Thus, the paper aims at discussing the symbolic significance of female figures in some of Souza’s paintings. The discussion will be based on some critical approaches for seeking various dimensions regarding the nude female depictions and erotica with their strange facial composition. The female paintings of Souza are representatives of the erotic and sensual manifestation with their stark nudity. At the same time they also possess the ironical statements and satire on the society and create an apprehension in the viewers.

Keywords: Francis Newton Souza, female body, painting, Indian art, nudity.


The enigma and charm of woman has always remained the most depicted thing in art from the very dawn of history. This phenomenon has also been considered the most contradictory aspect throughout the world. The primary evidences of art practices have been found in the cave temples of many countries including India, where prehistoric people had contributed a lot to express their thoughts on the wall of caves through painting. Those paintings are particularly related to their lifestyle and surroundings and woman has been depicted in a fewer scenes when compared to man. This bias of representation may be true or may not be true because almost all paintings have been made with geometrical or linear forms and it is very difficult to guess the gender of those figures.

            After the advent of Indus valley civilization, woman’s portrayal has been done frequently and it continued. In this long voyage of painting, Indian art has been influenced and patronized by various people of different countries and religions. This concept of patronization or courtship has been broken during the 19th century after the arrival of company style, when artists got various platforms to learn art practices and to expose their creativity. In this list of precursors of modern painting the most prominent are Ravi Verma, Amrita Sher-Gill, Abnindranath Tagore, Yamini Roy, who came up with some new ideas and techniques during the 19th century.

            During the 20th century, the art of representation has suddenly changed its course and meaning due to a group of artists in Bombay. They were called ‘the Progressives’, (Progressive Artistic Group), and Francis Newton Souza had been considered the founder of PAG. The major members of this group were, M.F. Hussain, F. N. Souza, Saiyad Haider Raja, K. H. Aara, and V. S. Gaitondey. This group has been considered the backbone of modern Indian paintings because each artist of this group has contributed a lot to give Indian art a new direction and make it more authentic.    The art of Francis Newton Souza has always attracted numerous connoisseurs either for appreciation or for critical evaluation of a world of distorted figures with evil faces. This very configuration of devil-like creatures is the most prominent aspect in the paintings of Souza including woman. The portrayal of woman in his paintings has been mostly done with huge genitals and vicious smile in naked and semi-naked condition, which somehow indicates some gender politics in respect of woman. Thus, in this paper some paintings of Souza have been critically observed to frame out the symbolic significance of woman depiction in his paintings.

            Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002) was born in Goa, a Portuguese state of India in a middle class family and his father died when he was very young. During his school days, he was expelled from the school for drawing some naked graffiti in the school toilet. While at Sir J. J. School of art in Bombay for his art education he was suspended in 1945 for supporting Quit India Movement. Later in 1947 he had founded Bombay Progressive Artistic Group (PAG) along with a few other artists, which gave art a new direction. The main artists of the group were M. F. Husain, Sayad Haider Raja, and K. H. Aara, F. N. Souza, S. K. Bakre.

            The main objective of this group was to synthesize the Indigenous art traditions with the modern European and American art movements by drawing the basic inspiration from the ancient Indian art traditions. The main agenda of the group was to give Indian art a modernistic approach, but their basics were highly influenced by the indigenous sculpture and painting. This modernistic approach has been derived through various Western and European art styles but the spirit of this has remained entirely Indian. The first exhibition of this group was organized in 1949 in Baroda and in Bombay, where, the group gained large scale attention. Their manifesto was very fascinating and was clubbed with a number of aspects including Indian primitive and folk style, temple erotica, and western ‘isms’. The ‘absolute freedom for content and technique’ is the only preferred aspect because they were not bound by any art movement or school but their representations were channelized through the ‘laws of aesthetic order, plastic coordination and color composition’ (Souza, 1994). They are considered as harbingers of truly modern and vigorous Indian art. Later, Mohan Samant, Vasudeo S. Gaitonde and Krishen Khanna joined the group in 1950s and there are numerous artists, who got inspired by the progressive module of PAG.

            Therefore, the group has led its followers on the zenith of individualistic styles of representations. Souza had left India during 1949 and went to live in London. He has gained name and fame nationally and internationally through his unique style of depiction. He has done numerous nude paintings of women throughout his career and usually portrayed them in sensuousness and erotic terms. He generally gave preference to heavy body structure with huge sexual organs and strange faces. He is not only inspired by erotic temple imagery of Khajuraho but also had some influences of western modern artists including Titian and Eduart Manet, Henri Matisse, Picasso, Goya and many more…Full Text PDF