October 1, 2022

Thiago Lontra

Art News Collection

The iconic importance of the artist whose paintings was once erased from artwork historical past

The iconic importance of the artist whose paintings was once erased from artwork historical past

“Higher had I died,” wrote Francis Newton Souza a few debilitating youth bout with smallpox that left his face completely disfigured, “I should not have needed to undergo an artists’ tormented soul, create artwork in a rustic that despises her artists and is unaware of her heritage.”

The good, relentlessly pioneering artist (1924-2002) wrote the ones traces in his Fragment of an Autobiography, which was once revealed through Villiers in London in 1959 all through tough years when each cash and repute remained most commonly elusive. Even if that plight did alleviate moderately – together with a novel albeit transient heyday as an said London luminary along masters of the fresh canon like Lucian Freud and Francis William Maxwell Aitken – the combined reception on his native land hasn’t ever stepped forward, past the shallow vagaries of an necessarily ignorant artwork market.

For this reason, even now, regardless of any selection of public sale information, there’s no significant scholarship to be discovered any place about Souza, and innumerable fakes proceed to be attributed to him, actually constituting nearly all of what is going on sale underneath his title in India. This grotesquely shameful charade is cynically, cyclically perpetuated through unscrupulous industry pursuits, which within the base line contain nearly all of what passes for the desi artwork global.

If that’s the plight of Souza, whose artwork are the world over celebrated, on everlasting show on the Tate Fashionable in London and Nationwide Gallery of Fashionable Artwork in New Delhi, and incessantly snapped up through global creditors for costs that way back crested above the benchmark of one million bucks, what about everybody else? Have we advanced in any respect from what this son of Saligao, Goa, and the Crawford Marketplace group of Bombay complained about, or will we nonetheless despise our artists and forget about our heritage?

Right here, even essentially the most wide-eyed optimist will have to concede the document card is particularly deficient. Indian artwork has established a moderately powerful market on the excessive finish – thus the fetish for Souza and his contemporaries, even supposing the artwork are conspicuously doubtful – however we have now nearly no catalogue raisonnés, and just a handful of great retrospectives have ever been held for even essentially the most celebrated artists. That vacuum of figuring out lets in any individual to mouth any more or less absurd gibberish, and escape with it. That is how the dedicated desh bhakt M.F. Husain was tarred with patently ridiculous slurs after which compelled into exile within the UAE, and in addition explains how and why the unwaveringly hard-edged modernist Vasudeo Gaitonde is being incessantly repositioned into some more or less woolly-headed quasi-spiritual mystic.

Figuring out the level of this uniformly pathetic situation, there’s possibly some chilly convenience to be derived from the happenstance of an excellent previous pioneer’s paintings final so completely unknown that it has no longer but been perverted. That is the curious case of Angelo da Fonseca, whose magnificent oeuvre was once created in yawning obscurity that most effective deepened additional after his demise in 1967.

Misunderstood, misrepresented, and purposefully left out right through the intervening many years, the primary frame of his artwork someway survived intact by the use of the odd religion, braveness and backbone of his widow, the indomitable Ivy da Fonseca. Rising now within the mild of the twenty first century, it’s amply transparent those artwork are of immense world importance. What’s extra, their newsletter on this meticulously compiled and lovingly produced quantity (see angelofonseca.com) feels not anything wanting miraculous. Out of nowhere, in an astonishing coincidence, it sort of feels justice will in the end be served to Indian artwork historical past, greater than 50 years after the artist himself departed our global.

How did this staggering lacuna happen within the first position? Why did Fonseca’s irresistibly stunning artwork disappear so completely from our collective figuring out that even the nearly-1,000-page Encyclopaedia of Visible Artwork of Maharashtra – which lists masses of artists – fails to file even an inkling their presence? The fast resolution is that there were a number of layers of bigotry at paintings, beginning with the fatally unsuitable world backdrop, as Dr. Rupert Arrowsmith has described in his beneficial Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African, and Pacific Artwork and the London Avant-Garde (Oxford College Press, 2011).

Arrowsmith lays out the issue on the first actual web page: “There’s a downside with the learn about of Modernism as an international phenomenon. Histories of the duration were written, till very just lately, through students with very little wisdom of the tradition provinces rather than their very own, leading to a state of affairs the place the dots of it seems that discrete geographical areas don’t seem to be adequately hooked up through traces of affect.”

Those blind spots have “resulted in a distorted view of Modernism as necessarily a Ecu invention, with related actions on different portions of the globe characterised as imitative of ‘complicated’ artwork and literature in Europe, or – satirically – as reactionary and propagandistic. The potential of multi-directional, transnational change in aesthetic ideas, art-historical wisdom, and literary and inventive methodology is thus discounted, performed down, or at highest said in tentative and deceptive techniques.”

That sweeping failure of global (learn: Western) scholarship was once gravely compounded in India after 1947, when an pressing – however wrong-headed, and in the long run damaging – revisionism swept apart and coated up the complicated panorama of modernism in India in favour of the Tagores and their “Bengal Renaissance.” Unsubtly excluded from this lobotomized “nationalist” artwork historical past was once the impressive cultural wellspring of all the west coast, however particularly the parade of odd artists from Goa who flooded to and thru colonial and mid-Twentieth-century Bombay to represent what Ranjit Hoskote has eloquently described as “an invisible river, one who has fed into the broader go with the flow of Indian artwork however has no longer all the time been recognised as so doing.”

In his excellent curatorial essay for Aparanta: The Confluence of Fresh Artwork in Goa, the landmark 2007 staff exhibition at the waterfront of Panjim which marked the go back of Fonseca to prominence within the cultural cloth of his native land (and in addition served to avoid wasting the stunning nineteenth century Outdated Goa Clinical School campus from being co-opted into a shopping center) Hoskote defined one of the vital reasons of this dissonance: “Goa’s particular historical evolution, with its Lusitanian path to the Enlightenment and print modernity, its Iberian emphasis on a colourful public sphere, its pleasure in its historic internationalism avant l. a. lettre, units it at a tangent to the self-image of an India that has been shaped with the enjoy of British colonialism as its foundation. The connection between Goa’s artists and mainland India has, no longer unusually, been ambiguous and erratic, even risky.”

This can be a extraordinary, oftentimes surreal quandary. From its inception in 1878, the paradigm-shifting Sir JJ College of Artwork was once sought out through hugely disproportionate numbers of Goans (as have been different establishments arrange in colonial Bombay on the similar time, particularly the Grant Clinical School). By means of the flip of the twentieth century, the good pioneer Antonio Xavier Trindade – the closely feted “Rembrandt of the East” – was once certainly one of its first Indian school contributors, and streams of his countryfolk adopted in his wake.

It is very important notice that the majority of this grand creative legacy has been both purposefully erased from the file, or intentionally co-opted into sketchy narratives that efface their origins. That is as a result of a grand overarching prejudice, for the reason that Goa-Bombay artists all the time been irredeemably heterogeneous. Souza’s cohort was once defiantly scruffy in comparison to the Shantiniketan bhadralok: Husain painted billboards, Ara was once a houseboy. The very presence of all these Indians has been handled as an affront to Indian artwork historical past, and there can also be certainly the status quo would have most well-liked to erase them from our awareness altogether. It no doubt would have took place too, if it had no longer been for an increasing number of rich non-resident Indians, and their oversized have an effect on at the twenty first century artwork market.

Those are all-important cultural fault traces – and right here we will have to take into account that each Souza and Gaitonde died in efficient penury most effective 20 years in the past – however there’s quite a lot of culpability this is shared through Goa as properly. Goans hugely compounded the artwork historic crime that Souza identified long ago in 1959, as each state and society have displayed an unimaginably cavalier forget for our personal heritage, in an astonishing abdication of duty that has few opponents any place on the planet. In spite of being the inheritors of an unrivalled creative legacy that extends millennia, proper to the morning time of mankind on this a part of the sector, the common Goan pupil learns precisely 0 about this birthright. Even worse, the federal government has performed not anything to rectify the disaster, and compiled no everlasting assortment to talk of, whilst additionally neglecting to represent the museum framework required to correctly show and give an explanation for the few meagre scraps it has controlled to retain after generations of despoilation (for instance, the Kala Academy’s small trove of superb Gaitonde canvases has been “lacking” for the previous 20 years).

On this massive mess, which presentations no signal in any way of being resolved, the life of the most productive a part of Angelo da Fonseca’s oeuvre poses an epic problem, in addition to its possible solution. This final bridge determine, who was once born into an aristocratic Luso-Indian circle of relatives however spent maximum of his lifestyles in satisfied anonymity in a spartan ashram in Poona from the Thirties onwards, whose paintings has all the time fallen between the cracks as too Indian for rigidly Eurocentric Catholics and too Christian for nationalism-blinkered Indians, has been retrieved from the ash-heap of historical past at exactly essentially the most promising juncture, into an technology that looks poised to know and admire his good artwork for a similar actual causes that our grandparents discovered them tough to digest. This can be a bolt of lightning that instructions the rewriting of all of our cultural notions. Here’s our common grasp, and India’s maximum principal early modernist.

The iconic importance of the artist whose paintings was once erased from artwork historical past
Madonna, 1967, watercolour on watercolour paper. Courtesy Ivy da Fonseca.


The tale of Angelo da Fonseca is inextricably intertwined with the profoundly confluential historical past of Goa. His ancestral roots are at the historic island of Santo Estêvão – aka Santo Estevam or Jua – the place the tale is advised that his father and mom stored shedding their kids in infancy, totalling an agonizing six or seven young children a row. Then, recommended through an old-timer, they acceded to pre-conversion traditions and paid tribute to an ancestral temple within the hinterland. After that gesture, they have been blessed with a number of kids who dis live to tell the tale, together with the preternaturally proficient youngest son, whom – within the custom of well-to-do Goans of the time – they despatched off to review around the border in British India.

Fonseca left house at not more than seven or 8 years of age, heading first to the St. Paul’s College in Belgaum – the place there have been many different Goans – and later rooted himself, with consequential long run implications, within the larger and extra principal cantonment town of Poona at St. Vincent’s College. After commencement, he first attempted changing into a health care provider at Grant Clinical School (the place he was once singled out for excellence in drawing in his Anatomy elegance) however then gave it up to enroll in the JJ College of Artwork.

All alongside, the artist recollects in his quirky, interesting Indo-Christian Artwork in Portray and Statuary: A Historic Retrospect, that was once revealed through St. Xavier’s School in 1953, he harboured an amazing ambition: “since my creative intuition started to broaden; and [I became aware of] the good number of the creative manufacturing that has sprung underneath the encouragement of the Church the entire global over – from the frescoes of the Catacombs of purely Roman inspiration all the way down to the statuary of the Gothic cathedrals and the good Masters of the Renaissance duration – [they] may no longer however be contrasted with the deficient stereotyped specimens we all the time noticed within the church buildings of our nation.”

Fonseca explains at some period, no much less passionately for it being a unsuitable and decidedly doubtful argument: “A Renaissance construction underneath the solar of India, having the now-clad Himalayas on its background, appears to be like incongruous to mention the least, one thing unwholesome and morbid, if in comparison with the lofty specimens of our historic non secular structure that attempt to emulate the excessive height of Mount Meru or the majestic slopes of Kailasha. Why may no longer the Catholic Church in finding herself at house in India, since she is in reality Catholic, i.e. common, Indian in India as she is Ecu in Europe.”

Later in that meandering essay, the artist etches out what appears like his private manifesto: “The Indian Catholic has in most cases been introduced up on merchandise of the West – very affordable and unartistic merchandise at that, as a common rule – and because of this our artwork is extraordinary to him. But when the clergymen introduce the artwork of India in our church buildings, the layman will naturally take it to his house. However we artists will have to make the effort to create actual devotional footage, and no longer simply to position a halo in the back of the pinnacle of a pretty lady or inscribe a label on the foot of an odd guy. Let due to this fact devotion be the substratum of inspiration, and that fostered through the breezes that descend from the lofty Himalayas.”

By means of this level, Fonseca had suffered mightily for his convictions. After heading house to Goa, he discovered himself the item of critical opprobrium for portray ostensible “holy footage” that have been hugely other from the ones peddled through the colonial church. He was once shaken, fled again to the town the place he had spent satisfied schooldays, and took up place of abode within the austere, high-minded Christa Prema Seva Sangha in Poona that were based through the Anglican minister John “Jack” Winslow only a few years previous in 1927. The patrician Goan was once satisfied there among well-educated (certainly, steadily aristocratic) Englishmen looking for to know India, and was once ultimately given price of its grounds. Even after marrying, he would go back on a daily basis to paintings there, steadily within the corporate of his shut pals from Goa, the good poet B. B. “Bakibab” Borkar and the nationalist priest, Rev. Hubert Olympio Mascarenhas.

When he had first fled to Poona, there was once no person else somewhat like Fonseca, however through 1953 a lot of different artists had adopted in his footsteps within the vein of “Indian Christian” imagery, even supposing only a few had the intensity or originality of his paintings. He does notice that “Joseph Pereira is a budding artist of serious promise” including that “this is a pity that he leans extra to the West than to the East. His artwork every now and then are left unfinished. He will have to be extra Indian in his composition or even on this methodology.” That is crucial intersection from our point of view, as a result of Joseph is best recognized to us as Dr. José Pereira, the bright polymath with a relentlessly taxonomical bent. In opposition to the tip of the latter’s lifestyles, the US-based pupil gave us an acute research of ways Fonseca suits into artwork historical past. Since it’s unpublished, and differently unavailable, I’m quoting it at period right here for the good thing about long run students.

Annunciation, 1953, watercolour on watercolour paper. Courtesy Ivy da Fonseca.

First amongst non-Westerners, Goans followed Western political establishments, just like the parliamentary republic, impartial nationhood (predicated on cultural identification), anti-colonial insurgence, and political birthday party. They took over clinical disciplines, like botany, medication, linguistics, and historical past, as they have been practiced within the West. They pioneered in writing in Western languages, and in Western literary genres. They embraced Western song, Western structure, non secular and home, and portray. Structure in Goa reached heights of excellence, however no longer portray. From the beginning and for lengthy Goan painters remained fixated at the works of the Flemish Renaissance.

Bengal was once Westernized, effectively, through the British. As Bengal waxed, Goa waned; within the nineteenth cent. It reached the nadir of its fortunes. But all was once no longer misplaced for India’s west. To the north of Goa was once a bunch of islands – underneath Portuguese rule however transferred to the

British – referred to as Bombay. This staff advanced right into a city that boasted being the primary town in India. It embodied the Westernization that were initiated in Goa previous and was once its mighty new avatar. By means of the nineteenth century the Bombay-Bengal dichotomy were mounted, and was once to situation the upward thrust of contemporary Indian artwork.

Reacting to the imposition of illusionism within the artwork faculties the indigenist (or orientalist) revival – the motion to create a nationalistic artwork no longer imitative of Europe however steady with India’s previous – was once begun underneath Western mentors. In 1819 the work of art of Ajanta, a cluster of fifth century Buddhist rock-cut monasteries within the Deccan, hidden within the jungle for hundreds of years, have been re-discovered through a British military officer. Ajanta quickly was a type for all Indian artists to mimic. E. B. Havell (1861-1934), director of the Executive College of Artwork in Calcutta, inspired Indian scholars to broaden a actually Indian artwork impressed through the creations of the previous.

One among Havell’s scholars was once Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1966), the archpriest of orientalism, and the founding father of the orientalizing Bengal College. A number one member of the College was once Nandalal Bose (1882-1966), scholar of Abanindranath and instructor of Angelo da Fonseca. Fonseca, avid indigenist, who belonged to the realm of Bombay’s affect (as did the realist Angela Trindade) crossed over to the extra nationalistic Bengal and was the disciple of Nandalal, so assuring Bengal’s victory; Angela endured unperturbed in her educational techniques, immured in Bombay’s realist citadel.

In Nandalal the Bengal faculty reached its climax; thru his intervention within the contest between Bombay and Bengal, Bengal was once victorious. The weapon that confident his good fortune was once an eclectic vocabulary – a conflation of paperwork and methods from each and every supply within the subcontinent, starting with the 5th century work of art of Ajanta, and proceeding with the palm-leaf and paper manuscripts and the material artwork of Tibet, Nepal, Orissa, Rajasthan and Bengal, even the work of art of Sigiriya in Ceylon: not anything “indigenous” or “oriental” was once excluded, no longer even Persian and Mughal and Chinese language and Jap artwork. Best Ecu realism was once taboo. This panoply arrayed towards the West suited Fonseca admirably in his efforts to create a completely indigenist Christian iconography.

This iconography was once the only size missing to Nandalal’s indigenist universalism, and it was once the size that Fonseca supplied. Christian iconography within the nineteenth century was once influenced through what’s referred to as the “Saint-Sulpice artwork,” after a Parisian church of that title. Essentially the most function options of this artwork have been heavily produced, plaster-cast and terracotta statues, with saccharine and senseless expressions, most certainly meant to constitute non secular ecstasy. Ache and struggling have been excluded, no less than from the saints and Virgins. They have been invariably wholesome and sexless.

Originating within the primal hub of Westernization, Goa, and resisting the attract of its Westernizing successor Bombay, the middle of illusionist portray, Fonseca, attracted through the universalizing indigenism of the Bengal College, even though himself of the Bombay space of affect, capitulated to the way of that College and added his personal contribution of an Indianized Christian iconography. In different phrases, Fonseca’s originality of indigenist shape, derived from his instructor Nandalal, blended along with his personal unique indigenist Christian iconography, mark him as an all-India determine straddling the 2 faculties, Bombay and Bengal.


Pereira – whom I used to be fortunate to get to understand properly within the final decade of his lifestyles – was once an inveterate encyclopaedist. He labeled and catalogued the whole lot in meticulous – certainly obsessive – element, and we’re endlessly indebted that his lens returned steadily to Goan tradition in several dimensions: song, language, structure, artwork. He wrote this review (which he advised me later was once “ironclad”) of Fonseca at what we now notice was once nearly the final conceivable second, only a few months sooner than he passed on to the great beyond in New York at 84. It were practically 5 many years for the reason that older Goan artist had himself succumbed to meningitis in Poona and all the ones intervening years had whizzed through uneventfully, till the thunderclap resolution through Ivy da Fonseca to collect all of her past due husband’s works of art from 3 or 4 separate places within the town now renamed Pune, and power them all the way down to Goa in 2006, with the figuring out they might be to be had to students and on everlasting show on the Xavier Centre of Historic Analysis.

It was once an earthquake second, even supposing right kind reverberations have no longer been felt from it for a few years. In lately’s mild, the artwork are flat out simple. The truth in their life poses a luminously intense riposte to the entire standard knowledge about what lies on the center of our collective identification as Goans, Indians, and inheritors of more than one cultural strands that surround the sector. After they first arrived in Goa, many principal cultural guests got here to view them like pilgrims: Orhan Pamuk, Amitav Ghosh, Dayanita Singh, Vikram Seth. Artwork students additionally confirmed up, together with Rupert Arrowsmith, whom I invited to India particularly to view this archive, and then he agreed that it’s “time to have a look at Fonseca once more, and to acknowledge him as a worldly artist totally at house throughout the eclectic, transcultural panorama of Indian Modernism.”

One particularly vital response was once from Paulo Varela Gomes, the past due architectural historian who did a very good activity in two phrases because the Goa delegate of the Lisbon-based Fundação Oriente.

Goans have a different pastime in awakening Indian and global consideration to Angelo da Fonseca’s significance as he was once certainly one of Goa’s extra vital twentieth-century artists. However there’s something else at stake right here, one thing of a ways higher outcome than regional pleasure or identification. One of the drawings and artwork through Fonseca—the ones with Christian subject material, possibly his extra enticing works—without delay carry to the fore the political, non secular and cultural issues of the early twenty-first century in a way this is unavoidable for the ones within the position performed through artwork in society. Fonseca’s artwork offers with ecumenical beliefs, with the need of discussion between ‘civilisations’ and religions, a dramatically-pressing subject for our instances. It additionally offers with where of Christianity in India and in Indian historical past, a topic that has just lately given upward thrust to episodes of violence and persecution and is paralleled through different unlucky cases of intolerance and brutality between communities in India and somewhere else. This will have to draw quick and pressing scholarly consideration to Fonseca’s artwork.

Nativity, 1954, watercolour on watercolour paper. Courtesy Ivy da Fonseca.


By means of satisfied circumstance, after which in maturity through practical design, the tale of Fonseca is intertwined with mine at more than one junctures going again 100 years to the British Raj and St. Vincent’s College in Poona. My maternal grandfather William Xavier Mascarenhas (whose ancestral roots are in Porvorim) was once his classmate and excellent pal from the ones years, and the 2 remained steadfastly unswerving to one another regardless of one changing into one thing like a recluse on the Anglican ashram, and the opposite being catapulted into the highest activity at his alma mater, the storied Engineering School the place he was the primary “local” Indian essential in 1938. There are pretty tales handed down in our households about how a very powerful global guests to that establishment have been handled to a grand Luso-Indian meal cooked through Fonseca himself – who was once referred to as an excellent chef – all through which the artist would sign up for the collection.

A couple of years after the artist died, my oldsters spent some years in Poona (it most effective was Pune in 1978) the place I used to be blessed to have Ivy da Fonseca as my first actual instructor. She taught me to learn in very delightful faculty years that remained indelibly rooted in my awareness as a result of a lot of what remained of my training in India was once distinctly unsatisfied. A lot afterward, after Ivy and I had reconnected, and she or he had begun to spend time in Goa to take a look at and lend a hand the XCHR in developing its promised centre of scholarship for her husband’s works of art, we have been honoured that she attended the baptism of my youngest son, to whom I used to be proud to offer the title Angelo. Right through the ones years greater than a decade in the past, the creator of this e-book and I labored very thankfully in combination to succeed in our project to stay our promise to Ivy and ourselves, safe within the self assurance that this nice artist’s paintings would no longer proceed to languish so unconscionably.

Unfortunately, it didn’t occur. Our trail was once disrupted, then wilfully diverted. Fonseca was once wrenched from our lives, and the sour fact is an extra era of Goans has proceeded to go throughout faculty with out an inkling of this nice artist’s very actual price to their lives. Only some understood what was once at stake, and for them it rankled very deeply. Among those was once my past due mom Naomi Mascarenhas e Menezes, the daughter of W. X. Mascarenhas and niece of H. O. Mascarenhas, who by no means did not enquire after this principal unfinished industry, actually proper till her voice was once in the end extinguished.

What a pity my mom by no means lived to peer this second, when Fonseca has another time risen totally improbably out of nowhere to command our consideration. Fittingly sufficient, that tale is writ small within the explicit historical past of the portray at the quilt of this good-looking quantity. First painted for show in church, it was once discarded through know-nothings who contended it was once no longer appropriate: no longer Ecu sufficient, no longer Christian sufficient, a ways too Goan, a ways too Indian. Later, when entrusted to the Xavier Centre, Delio de Mendonça wiped clean it up along with his personal fingers, and ever since then – even from the space of Rome – he has endured to toil in Fonseca’s title with super humility and uncommon devotion. The outcome, individually, is spectacular past measure. We will have to be very thankful to him and Gerard da Cunha for this landmark newsletter. Viva Fonseca!

Excerpted with permission from Fonseca through Delio de Mendonça. Structure Self sufficient.