Born: 12 April 1924
Died: 28 March 2002

Francis Newton Souza - Artwork


Francis Newton Souza, born on the 12th of April 1924 in Saligao, Goa, was the founder member of the Progressive Artists Group who is largely responsible for shaping the Modern Art movement in India. He was brought up a strict Roman Catholic under Portuguese Colonial rule and later a member of the Communist Party. Inspite of the confusion of names, Souza was entirely Indian by blood. The name Newton came into the family because his father - also Newton - had an English godfather. The name Francis was added a little later by Souza’s mother, in thanksgiving to Goa’s patron saint, St. Francis Xavier, for having rescued her son from an attack of smallpox. She vowed not only that she would rename her son after the saint, but that she would do everything in her power to encourage him to become a Jesuit priest. He has written a lot about these early years in Words and Lines:

“I was born in Goa in 1924. My grandfather and grandmother were both chronic drunkards. Grandfather was a principal of a village school on Assolna, Salsette - a school his forefather had founded. My father, as a reaction to their bibulousness, never touched other liquid than water. He became a chronic teetotaler. On his wedding day the toast wine was poured over his head, since he would not drink it. But it is said that the progeny of bibulous progenitors are highly imaginative people. By atavism, it seems, the visions of a tipsy grandfather, pink elephants and the rest of the menagerie are transferred to the grandchildren, who see similar visions without being tipsy. You’ve only to see my paintings to know whether this is right or wrong."

Brought up a strict Catholic, Souza admits that it was the Roman Catholic Church in Goa which gave him the first ideas of images and image-making. In 1937, he was sent to a Jesuit school in Bombay as his mother had promised. It was scarcely a success. Although he was thinking seriously of becoming a priest, and was studying Latin to that end, the Jesuits who ran the school did not find anything godly in his indifference to school discipline, nor in his aptitude for drawing. He was often suspected as having done the drawings in the school lavatory which after examining, Souza would find badly drawn and even correct it. After two years, he was expelled as undesirable, and that was the end of his brief career as a budding priest.

Souza - Indian Artist

Souza promptly joined the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay when he was 16. Since it was in a British Colony, and had an Associate Royal Academician as its principal, it is easy to imagine what would the would-be artists of Bombay were encouraged to admire and emulate. At the time, Souza seems to have accepted its values, at least to the point of being the prize pupil for four years and to have been content to learn the dull disciplines of his profession, without rebelling against the entrenched principles upon which those disciplines were founded. In 1944 he began to take part in Left-Wing political activities aimed at bringing the British colonial rule to an end. This made him increasingly the suspect in the eyes of the British staff at the art school. He found himself failing the end-of-the-year examination, joining in a school strike which resulted to him getting expelled again. It was on this period, June 1945, he was 21 that he went home and painted a picture that was utterly different from anything he had done before. Called “The Blue Lady", it was created with paint squeezed straight out of the tube and spread with a palette knife. It was an angry impulsive picture, and in painting it he discovered the way he wanted to paint. Six months later, he held his first one-man show and sold a number of pictures - including “The Blue Lady", bought by Dr. Herman Goetz for the Baroda Museum, where it still hangs.

Having been expelled from school, Souza had the luxury of time which he took to studying in libraries where he discovered for the first time illustrations of classical Indian art and of modern European painting. This was for him a revelation for it never had occurred to the teachers at the art school that their Indian pupils might benefit from studying the art of their ancestors or of their European contemporaries. Souza then made a passionate study of Indian art and was particularly moved by the South Indian bronzes and the sublimely erotic carvings on the temples of Khajuraho. Both made a lasting impression on him, and were largely responsible for awakening the imagination of the young painter. One of the things which shocked him at that time was the ignorance of this great traditions on the part of men who called themselves painters. An ignorance which spread to every corner of the Indian art world. Nowhere did Souza find any knowledge or appreciation of India's own native heritage.

From 1945, he veered increasingly towards Communism and became a party member in 1947, the year of India’s independence. For a time, Souza thought his art could serve their ideals. The following year, Souza founded the Progressive Artists Group. He also left the Communist Party.

He still believes that art is propaganda, but he no longer believes it possible to make men more conscious of their suffering by showing people suffering.

Francis Newton Souza - Paintingss

“They told me to paint in this way and that, I was estranged from many cliques who wanted me to paint what would please them. I do not believe that a true artist paints for a coteries or for the proletariat. I believe with all my soul that he paints solely for himself. I have made my art a metabolism. I express myself freely in paint in order to exist. I paint what I want, what I like, what I feel."

In 1949, he and his wife boarded a ship for London and in 1955, held a one-man show at Gallery One in London and also had his autobiographical essay ‘Nirvana of a Maggot’ published. It was a hard-earned success for Souza as he have been through a lot of rejections and struggles during his early years in London. Yet it was in the Paris art gallery, the Iris Clert, that Souza found his first really big patron. In 1956, Harold Kovner, a wealthy American had been shown Souza’s works where he jumped upon seeing them. Within 24 hours he met with Souza, given him money, taken away some pictures, and made arrangements for the future. Souza had to keep him supplied with pictures of his own choosing and in return, Kovner would give him money. This went on for four years and Souza, for the first time in his life, did not have to worry about his finances. Mr. Kovner owns 200 paintings of Souza now.

Souza - Indian Artist

In 1959 a collection of his autobiographical essays, ‘Words and Lines’, was published, and in 1962 a monograph on his work by Edwin Mullins was published as well. Two retrospectives of his work were organized by Art Heritage, New Delhi, in 1986 and 1996. Souza also participated in a work-live programme in Los Angeles, hosted by Saffronart in 2001. Souza passed away in Mumbai 2002. Some important posthumous exhibition of his work include, ‘F.N. Souza’ in New York, in 2008; ‘F.N. Souza: Religion & Erotica’ at Tate Britain, London, in 2005-06; ‘Self-Portrait: Renaissance to Contemporary’ at a gallery, in London, in 2005; and ‘Francis Newton Souza’ in galleries in New York and London, in 2005.

Text Reference:
Excerpt from the book, Souza by Edwin Mullins published in 1962


  • John Moore Prize, Liverpool, 1957
  • Italian Government Scholarship, 1960
  • Guggenheim International Award, New York, 1967


  • Francis Newton Souza: Bridging Western and Indian Modern Art
  • Souza by Edwin Mullins
  • Francis Newton Souza: Dhoomimal Gallery Collection
  • F.N. Souza: Religion & Erotica
  • Francis Newton Souza by Neha Berlia
  • F.N. Souza “Words & Lines"

Top 10 Auction Records

Title Price Realized
Birth USD 4,085,000
The Deposition GBP 1,565,000
The Butcher USD 1,685,000
Untitled (Indian Family) INR 90,225,000
Untitled (Large Head) USD 1,426,500
Red Curse USD 881,250
Nyasa Negress with Flowers of Thorns USD 856,000
Untitled (Landscape) USD 688,000
Nude with Fruit USD 657,000
The Crucifixion USD 557,000
The Red Road GBP 580,500