One of India’s greatest modernists, Francis Newton Souza catapulted to fame in post-war London in the 1950s. The present lot, painted in 1955, belongs to this iconic period of the artist’s career expressing his feelings and anxieties of the postwar era and reflecting on his own personal anguish.
The subject matter of La Place Town Square, is rather traditional compared to Souza’s other works, it is a typical French town with rustic buildings and a well depicted in an earthy palette. With hints of cubism and thick dark outlines, the hallmark of his work in this period, the houses appeared boxy while the well in the forefront gives the picture a sense of depth. The barren tree with spines for leaves depicted alongside uninviting windowless houses creates an atmosphere that is desolate, cold and unwelcoming reflecting perhaps the initial reaction to his works when he arrived in London a few years before. Looming above the townscape is Souza’s signature rendering of the sky, brooding and stormy conveying a sense of gloom.
“The graphic power of Souza’s lines produces simplified and bold images, while the thick oil paints applied liberally to the board or canvas, with swift strokes, give his work a sense of vitality and movement…Cityscapes, constructed from fragmented images and memories, are also important subjects and perhaps suggestive of Souza’s cosmopolitan life and frequent traveling.” (FN Souza: Icons of a Modern World, All Too Human, Tate London, 28 February – 27 August 2018, Exhibition Catalogue, p. 20)
S.H. Raza is considered one of the best colorist of his time. He made use of western plastic techniques and combined it with an aesthetic that is truly Indian to come up with a visual language that truly was his own.
Sayed Haider Raza began to conceive and express nature and its elements in terms of geometric patterns and primary colors rooted from deep spiritual motif by the 1970s. Since then, the elements and symbols associated with ancient Indic iconography frequently appeared in his paintings.
In the present work, Raza depicts the ‘Kundalini’ which roughly translates to coiled one in Sanskrit. It is represented as a curled serpent and believed to be the primal force of energy both in the body and the universe. This principle is manifested in this painting by the snake-like coil of painted circles that intersperse and radiates outwards.
In the center is a white bindu enclosed by intertwined nagas, while black and red concentric rings radiate around it. These interlocking forms recall the opposing though balancing forces of yin and yang and reflect on the duality present in the universe –male and female, day and night, light and dark– that sustains the cosmic cycle of life. In the background, he used colors that constitute the visible world; white, red, blue, yellow, and black that also represents the fundamental elements of creation.
Note: This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonne of the artist currently being prepared by A. Macklin.
Leading ARTIANA’s upcoming South Asian sale is this exquisite work from M.F. Husain‘s Raj Series – ‘Kathak Dance Performance at the Maharaja Darbar’ painted in 1989 with impeccable provenance.
“In the mid-1980s, at the height of his celebrity as India’s most famous and flamboyant modernist and living artist, Maqbool Fida Husain cast his painterly eye back half a century and more, to a time when much of the subcontinent was still under British rule. This sharp – and surprising – (re)turn to India’s recent colonial past resulted in some among the most insightful, and also most playful, of works in different media to emerge from the brush of this prolific and imaginative artist.”1
With regards to his treatment of the British Raj subject, Husain simultaneously mimics two separate styles of British-Indian painting: formal portraiture using prominent imperial emblems and icons, and picturesque that exaggerated exotic elements.2 Husain satirized the confluence of cultures yet he does not historize his subjects; references to historical figures are intentionally oblique and were often fictionalized.
In a large scale tableau, the Maharaja’s darbar is complexly marked with Husain’s iconography —the dancer and the musicians with their traditional instruments. The titular Maharaja holds court and sits comfortably on his home ground. Sitting beside him is the English governor who is stiffly dressed in a formal military suit, decorated and bearing the symbol of the crown; with him is his Lady seated a little to the back. Historically, a darbar refers to a ruler’s court and later to ceremonial gatherings characterized by pomp and glamor during the British colonial era. It signifies the ruling Maharaja’s demonstrations of loyalty to the crown. Instead of a dismissive attitude towards this practice of paying homage to the colonizer, Husain presented both English Lord and Maharaja side by side, in equal prominence. “His India has much authority and it forms a rather bemused backdrop for the historic mutual incomprehension that the Raj embodied, He situates his presentation of the drama of the colonizer and the colonized within a discourse of equivalence.”3 Interestingly, the tiger motif that is reminiscent of Tipu’s tiger is present.
Aside from the principal subjects, the entire composition is almost devoid of colors. The kathak performer is the most colorful and dominating feature, highlighting Husain’s choice to portray India’s long artistic tradition as a continuum. Dance, particularly Indian classical dance, was heavily censored during the colonial period. The accumulation of Indian classical dancers into his pictorial tradition juxtaposed with the subject of the British Raj marked Husain’s interest in merging dance, visual art, and history by turning back to earlier indigenous forms of presenting the female body.
Husain’s work on the British Raj “provides both the political and ethical charge that runs through his works and it also distinguishes Husain’s attempts to laugh at the empire from other artistic attempts to do so that had preceded him. He really is the only major artist of his generation to deliver this message (offering) a playful but nonetheless edgy postcolonial lesson in how one might hate and disavow empire in the right way, even while learning how to live with it, mock it and laugh at it properly.”4
Text References: 1 S. Ramaswamy, Husain’s Raj, Visions of Empire and Nation, Mumbai, 2016, p. 12 2 S. Bagchee, “Augmented Nationalism: The Nomadic Eye of Painter M.F. Husain”, Asianart Online, 1998, accessed April 2019 3 Ibid. 4 S. Ramaswamy, Op. cit., p. 133,139
ARTIANA, UAE’s first home-grown auction house for art and luxury collectibles, is offering 50 artworks from the Indian subcontinent in their South Asian Art auction on June 13 to June 17. Showcasing a broad and inclusive range of fine works in various media such as oils, acrylics and paper works, the auction features work by masters and leading contemporary artists from the region including M. F. Husain, S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza, and Jogen Chowdhury among others.
The collection also includes exceptional paintings by members of the Progressive Artists’ Group and their associates, providing a glimpse of the formative period in the development of Indian modern art. These include S.H. Raza’s 1974 painting, Composition, which is part of the culmination of the artist’s period of experimentation before the Bindu; an exceptional work by F. N. Souza from 1955, the apex of his artistic career, titled ‘La Place Town Square‘; and Ram Kumar’s semi-abstracted landscapes.
The collection will be sold through an online auction at www.artiana.com from June 13 (6:00 pm) through June 17th (9:00 pm) UAE time with a No Buyer’s Premium policy in an essentially ‘What You Bid Is What You Pay’ format. FlexiPay which allow buyers to ‘Bid Now Pay Later’ will also be available for eligible clients. (FlexiPay scheme details are available on their website.)
The catalogue can be viewed online, and viewings can be arranged by prior appointment. Collectors may place bids at ARTIANA’s website, or through the mobile app available on both Google Play for Android and the App Store for Apple devices.
For information on how to register and bid, visit their website at www.artiana.com; For assistance and inquiries, call Artiana’s Help Desk at +971 55 815 3030 or write to [email protected].