“Now that Picasso is dead, I am the greatest!"

—F.N. Souza, 1987

Francis Newton Souza, that wild child of Indian modern art, had a penchant for outrageous quotes. In March 1987, in an article in Goa Today, he announced that he was the greatest artist in the world. He was the “Picasso of India"; and Picasso had died.

It is in this context that the exhibition Picasso Souza, which opens at the Vadehra Art Gallery (VAG) in New Delhi today, is a seminal one. Close to 100 works have been sourced from London’s Grosvenor Gallery for the exhibition which features Pablo Picasso and F.N. Souza—founding members of the modern art movements in Europe and India, respectively—side by side.

Twin faces: (Left)Picasso’s Femme au Chapeau, 1962; and Souza’s Untitled (Head of Picasso), 1961.

Souza’s derived title as the Indian Picasso can be read as derogatory by some because he was creating a new artistic grammar in the milieu of 1940s India and deserves due recognition in his own right. The Goa-born artist was a dominant force in the development of Indian modern art, inspiring the Progressive Artists’ Movement in the country before going on to become an inspirational figure on the London art scene of the 1950s. Picasso, on the other hand, is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, known for co-founding the Cubist movement in the early 1900s along with Georges Braque. With three museums dedicated solely to his work, he is also the most sought after artist in the world today, with his paintings having sold for over $150 million, or around Rs780 crore. Souza’s works have sold for over $1.5 million.

Picasso Souza includes works by the artists in a whole variety of media—drawings, oil paintings, etchings, linocuts and ceramics—that display the artists’ versatility and genius. It explores the exchange of ideas, intellectual movements, and artistic trends between Souza and Picasso, and ultimately between India and the rest of the world. The exhibition will also have photographs of the artists taken by various photographers.

“The works will be shown alongside each other to give the audience a chance to see the inspirations that Souza drew from, among other things, Western art, in particular Picasso and the Cubists," says Vadehra.

At the time when Souza had started exhibiting his work in Europe, Edwin Mullins, the famous art critic, had observed that like Picasso, his (artistic) interventions had been thought outrageous because “the imagination that created them was discovering something about the visual world which no one as yet understood or which everyone had forgotten".

Nine years after Souza died, this is, in retrospect, a chance to understand it all.

Picasso Souza opens today at the Vadehra Art Gallery, D-40, Defence Colony, New Delhi, and will run till 14 January. Some of the works are on sale, priced upwards of £800 (around Rs64,800).