Francis Newton Souza: exceptional record for his centenary


Souza is often considered India’s most radical artist. In 1947, the year of Indian independence, he was one of the founding members of the Progressive Artists’ Group. Alongside artists like Sayed Haider Raza and M. F. Husain, he sought to introduce a new Modern artistic language to his country. By combining classical Indian themes with European stylistic advances, the group laid the foundation for artistic Modernism in India.

In 1949, Francis Newton SOUZA left Bombay for London, seeking support and an audience more open to his work. It was in the second half of the 1950s that he enjoyed critical and commercial success in London, while benefiting from patronage. He created some of his most remarkable works during that period.

The support of collector Robin Howard and Gallery One played a key role in his success during the 1950s and 1960s. This period was crucial to his career, initially as a leading member of the London School of Artists, then as one of the most respected Indian artists of the 20th century.


Evolution of Souza’s auction record price in USD millions. Copyright


A record at the threshold of five million dollars

Last month, Christie’s celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Francis Newton Souza by offering 36 lots created by the artist in a live auction on March 20, as well as in an online sale from March 13 to March 27. This sale revisited his six-decade career, highlighting his experiments with genres and styles, while highlighting his powerful figurative practice of the 1950s and 1960s.

Coming from the Robin Howard Collection – a major collector of his work in London – his The Lovers from 1960 was among the artist’s most notable figurative paintings. Never shown to the public before and known only through a black and white photograph, this masterful work stands out from all the others. Estimated between $700,000 and $1,000,000, it ultimately sold for almost five times its high estimate, reaching $4.89 million. The Lovers thus set a new auction record for Souza, surpassing the previous record set by his Hunger, which sold for $3.6 million in August 2023 at Pundole’s in Mumbai.

Hunger (176 x 130 cm), Souza’s previous record at $3.6 million at Pundole’s in Mumbai, 08/31/2023


Nishad Avari, head of Indian art at Christie’s explains that “his works created between 1955 and 1963 are rarely put on the market and are therefore more in demand by collectors of Indian modernism. Today, the collector base for Souza’s work extends well beyond South Asia, Europe and America. We are seeing more and more clients from East Asia interested in the work of the Indian Modernists.”

Another work from this same period, Priest with Chalice (1953), was also successfully sold on the same day at Christie’s. After spending nearly fifty years in a private American collection, this work, estimated at between $500,000 and $700,000, far exceeded its estimates. Fetching $3.9 million, the 91.4 x 60.6 cm oil-on-cardboard, both austere and powerful, generated one of the artist’s ten best-ever auction results. Priest with Chalice is one of the first portraits of clergy that Souza created, inspired by memories of his youth where he attended mass daily with his grandmother. The work’s characteristic thick black lines demonstrate the influence of French artist Georges Rouault. The dark figure, presented as a Romanesque icon, prefigures a series of black paintings that Souza would develop a decade later.


Geographical distribution of Souza’s auction turnover since 2020. Copyright

The exceptional results obtained by Souza’s works, exceeding previous estimates by several million dollars, highlight the trends and vitality of his auction market. Major collectors are less inclined to invest large sums in artists who have already reached their peak valuations, preferring to concentrate on well-known Modern artists whose prices do not yet fully reflect their importance.

These results also confirm the current boom in the Indian art market, as previously mentioned in our article Rise of Indian artists: the Sayed Haider Raza case and the latest New York results last March. Indeed, India is currently experiencing a sharp growth in auction turnover with an increase of 76% last year. This dynamic is driven by a growing demand for great Indian artists of the 20th century from local collectors, but also by buyers in New York and London.