Art exhibition evokes the Sixties sex workers of Belsize Park

Reclining Nude (1959) by FN Souza

Reclining Nude (1959) by FN Souza - Credit: Courtesy of Grosvenor Gallery

The days when Belsize Park was a red light district are evoked in an exhibition by Indian modern artist Francis Newton Souza.

Born in Goa in 1924 to strict Catholic parents, he said his early work reflected the "sin and sensuality" he witnessed around him - from religious iconography to erotic Indian art.

A founding member of the Progressive Artists Group in Bombay, Souza moved to Hampstead in the mid 1950s and stayed until 1967 when he emigrated to the USA. During his time in north London he travelled extensively around Europe and exhibited in Geneva and Rome. But he was sufficiently hard up to accept free art materials from Reeves and Sons to complete his works.

They included several Hampstead landscapes, expressive images of London terraces bathed in vibrant colours that look as if they are transported from a faraway land. Now an online exhibition at Grosvenor Gallery in London, FN Newton 52 Years On Paper (1946-1998) is showing works from throughout the artist's career.

Untitled (Brigitte Bardot) 1968 by F.N Souza

Untitled (Brigitte Bardot) 1968 by F.N Souza - Credit: Courtesy of Grosvenor Gallery

It includes, Untitled (Study for Young Ladies of Belsize Park), 1962, which was inspired by Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, a 1968 image of Brigitte Bardot, and a 1958 Reclining Nude from Souza's Hampstead years.

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Picasso's painting references his time in Barcelona when he would buy his paper and paints in the Calle d'Avignon "under the gaze of prostitutes".

A study for The Ladies of Belsize Park by F.N Souza

A study for The Ladies of Belsize Park by F.N Souza - Credit: Courtesy of Grosvenor Gallery

Souza, who met Picasso in Paris in 1951, felt the bustling atmosphere of his NW3 neighbourhood echoed that description of Barcelona. His 1962 study for Young Ladies of Belsize Park depicts a brothel scene which mirrors the postures of the original.

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The painting itself was sold at auction by Christies in 2018 for $250,000.

FN Souza 52 Years on Paper is available to view online until March 7.

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