oil on board, signed and dated '55 upper left, inscribed with the title on the backboard, exhibition label on reverse, framed 121 x 99 cm.
Provenance: Private UK collection: acquired by the current owner's late husband, who was a friend of Victor Musgrave's wife, the photographer Ida Kar, as security against a loan he made to Musgrave, owner of Gallery One, London, where Souza frequently exhibited in the 1950s and 1960s.
Exhibited: Trends in Contemporary Painting from India, The American Federation of Arts, Fifth Avenue, New York, March 1959-March 1960, no. 19 (lent by The Graham Gallery, New York), label on reverse. The Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1984.
The Elder falls into the tradition of the many figures depicting priests, prophets, philosophers or saints in Souza's work - what we might call broadly Judaeo-Christian figures. Such a concern doubtless stems from his Roman Catholic upbringing, but also from his constant return to those holding patriarchal authority within society: for instance, the series of drawings in Words and Lines called 'Six Gentlemen of Our Times', suited figures in collar and tie. In this case, however, the patterned tunic suggests a priest or a Biblical character. Similar examples can be found worn by the startled disciples in Supper at Emmaus of 1958 (illustrated in Edwin Mullins, Souza, London 1962, p. 70); Mad Prophet in New York of 1961 (Mullins, p. 102); or Saint Sebastian of 1958 (illustrated in A. Kurtha, Francis Newton Souza: Bridging Western and Modern Indian Art, Ahmedabad 2006, p. 73). Meanwhile the face contains the well-known Souza motif of the eyes set high in the forehead, and the shovel shape of the face with its elongated chin, seen too in the Portrait of an Indian Philosopher (1957; Mullins, p. 60). Here it is pushed into something resembling the curved mask-like heads of Modigliani. The most direct comparison in terms of subject can be made with The Two Elders (1956; Kurtha, p. 145), which features all these motifs, but in addition the striking white background made up of heavy impasto and vicious crosshatching and scoring into the paint surface. It is this vibrant quality, the striking melange of colours in the tunic, along with the sheer size of the work, which makes The Elder so impressive.