Summary

Mother and Child is from a group of drawings in Tate Collection (Tate T11821–6) that de Francia produced between the early 1950s and mid 1960s, which demonstrate his interest in representing ordinary people and everyday circumstances. Drawn in charcoal and crayon, Mother and Child shows a young woman, plainly dressed in black, clasping a baby in her arms. Her powerful hands encircle the child’s body. The baby, with a tender gesture, touches the woman’s chin with one hand and appears to reach towards the viewer with the other. The mother’s slightly diverted gaze creates an impression of stoicism.

De Francia 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 Tate T11821–6, this goal seems to inform the powerful, expressionistic treatment of the figures. Thick black lines establish the basic form and detail of the bodies, while areas of closely-hatched lines and passages of smudged charcoal heighten texture and reinforce a sense of solidity and presence. Measuring over seventy-seven centimetres in height, this is a relatively large drawing and the figures, positioned in the extreme foreground, occupy most of the space, which adds to their quality of monumentality and directness.

Mother and Child and the other drawings in this group can be placed in the context of a tradition of politically-engaged European realism, notably, the figurative works of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), to which de Francia felt himself closely aligned. An Anglo-Italian, he grew up in Paris and studied art in Brussels before relocating to Britain in 1940. In London he studied at the Slade School of Art. In 1947 de Francia made the first of several extended visits to Italy. Mother and Child may have been made on one of these trips.

Further reading:
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.
Philip Dodd, Peter de Francia, exhibition leaflet, Tate Britain, London 2006.

Alice Sanger
November 2010