This charcoal drawing measures over one metre in height and shows the face and torso of a male figure who clasps a very young child, wearing only a vest, to his chest. The man’s face appears rugged and half in shadow, and is marked by dark and uneven eyebrows and a deeply creased brow. He wears an open shirt with the sleeves rolled up. The child seems to squirm in the man’s arms; his head is turned away from the viewer to look over the man’s right shoulder.
Man Carrying a Child is from a group of drawings in Tate Collection (T11821–6) that de Francia produced between the early 1950s and mid 1960s, which demonstrate his interest in representing ordinary people and everyday circumstances. He has stated that his aim as an artist has been ‘to produce work which makes people intensely aware of their predicament’ (quoted in Hyman, 1978, p.18). In the drawings T11820–6, this goal seems to inform the powerful, expressionistic treatment of figures. In Man Carrying a Child, he used thick black lines to establish the basic form and detail of the bodies. Areas of closely-drawn lines and passages of smudged charcoal heighten texture and spatial depth and create a sense of solidity and presence. De Francia’s attention to the lined face and penetrating gaze of his working-class subject suggest the stoicism of the figure.
It is not known where Man Carrying a Child was produced, but it is likely to have been made in France or Italy where the artist spent significant time during this period. An Anglo-Italian, de Francia grew up in Paris and studied art in Brussels before relocating to Britain. In 1947 he made the first of several extended visits to Italy. In 1957 he bought a house in Provence, France. Whilst De Francia’s concern with ordinary subjects has aligned him with the so-called Kitchen Sink artists of mid-1950s to early 1960s Britain, his work of this period falls within a tradition of politically-engaged European realism. In particular, his imagery, including the graphic output of the 1950s and 1960s, has elements of the direct manner and socialist message of the art of the Italian painter Renato Guttuso (1912–87), whom he knew and admired.
Timothy Hyman, ‘Peter de Francia’s Work’, Art Monthly, no.18, July–August 1978, pp.17–8.
Timothy Hyman, ‘The Drawings of Peter de Francia’, Peter de Francia, Painter and Professor: An Anthology, exhibition catalogue, Camden Arts Centre, London 1987, pp.7–17, reproduced p.13.
Philip Dodd, Peter de Francia, exhibition leaflet, Tate Britain, London 2006, reproduced inside front cover.