Still Life with Bread and Fish, oil on canvas, signed and dated '62 upper centre, further signed and dated on reverse, framed, 107.4 x 80cm (42 5/16 x 31 1/2in).
Provenance: Private Collection, USA.
Exhibited: FN Souza, Gallery One, London, November-December 1962, no. 5. The work is illustrated in the exhibition catalogue
Published: Edwin Mullins, Souza, London 1962, p.35, pl.7.
In 1962 Souza was at the height of his powers. Over the previous seven years his work had matured and deepened, and settled into its main themes and distinctive style. This fertile period, which coincided with a string of successful exhibitions in London, was crowned in 1962 by the publication of Edwin Mullins's superb monograph.
His work of these years sat well with the postwar expressionism of Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon, both of whom he knew. Like Sutherland, Souza was a Catholic whose paintings often depicted Christian themes, both through the figure and still life, in a particularly menacing manner, Tate's Crucifixion (1959) being the supreme example.
Of the London period still lifes, Still Life with Bread and Fish is perhaps the pre-eminent work. The Christian symbolism, extreme distortions and energetic style are characteristic. As with all his mature works the painting tends towards a frontal depiction of the motif and a severe anti-naturalism. The table-top is pitched up steeply and inconsistently, so the space is flattened and twisted, and the objects, rendered in profile without volume or body, press against the plane of the canvas. A glint of aggression emanates from the sharp teeth and livid eye of the fish, while the jugs, positioned so the angular beak of one is poised threateningly at the neck of the other, add to the sense of menace.
And yet, for all the sinister, latent violence of these details, and for all the roughness with which the bulk of the paint has been laid down, there is running through it all a disarming delicacy of line that gives definition to the forms. A delicacy that finds its companion in the soft, aqueous underpainting glimpsed here and there through the thicket of vigorous marks. A quality of mercy, or love perhaps, that rescues Souza's work from mere pessimism and violence.
Toby Treves Curator of 'F.N. Souza: Religion and Erotica', exhibition at Tate Britian, 2005-2006.