In this drawing in charcoal, a male child dressed only in a vest sits on a chair at a table. The strong vertical and horizontal lines of the simple table and chair with a ragged wicker seat accentuate the apparent awkwardness of the boy’s pose. He sits facing the viewer with knees akimbo, eating from a loaf of bread which he holds to his mouth with both hands. His eyes are closed so that he seems entirely absorbed in the food and oblivious to the viewer’s gaze.
Seated Boy, Genoa is from a group of drawings in Tate Collection (T11820–6) that de Francia produced from the early 1950s to mid 1960s. These works demonstrate the artist’s long-standing interest in representing ordinary people and circumstances. De Francia has explained 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 his subjects. In Seated Boy, Genoa, the artist used thick, straight, black lines to establish the basic forms and structure of the scene. Passages of smudged charcoal, particularly around the boy’s head, create a sense of solidity and presence. The space appears shallow and cramped and the boy’s body – in particular his knees – seem to push beyond the picture plane.
During the late 1940s and 1950s, de Francia produced numerous drawings of Italian subjects, including The Port of Genoa 1952 (T11925) and Italian Workers in a Café 1953 (reproduced in Hyman, 1987, p.9), having made extended visits to Italy in the aftermath of the Second World War. De Francia has strong connections with continental Europe: the son of a Genoese father and English mother, he was born in the South of France and brought up mainly in Paris. He studied at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels before fleeing to Britain in 1940. After the War, he attended the Slade School of Art, London, and then travelled to Italy, the United States and Canada. The time spent in Italy had perhaps the most profound effect on his art and outlook. ‘The climate of discussion and debate in Italy ... was the only one in which I have ever felt at home,’ the artist has explained. ‘I have never thought so lucidly, or felt so near to reality.’ (Quoted in Hyman, 1987, p.9.)
Drawn to the art of the post-War political realists, de Francia’s work has elements of the direct manner and socialist message of Renato Guttuso (1912–87) (see, for example, Guttuso’s Sulphur Miners 1949, N05947). He has said of Guttuso’s work: ‘[his were] the first pictures I saw in reproduction after the war which made a profound impression on me ... Guttuso’s seemed the language which came nearest to expressing the aura of that whole historical period.’ (Quoted in Hyman, 1987, pp.10–1.)
De Francia’s drawings from the early 1950s to 1960s of working-class figures and everyday scenes stand in contrast to much of his graphic output from the late 1960s to 1980s. The large-scale, later drawings tend to be characterised by complex, multi-figural compositions and a strong satirical or mythical element, in which the impact of the work of German artists Max Beckmann (1884–1950) and George Grosz (1893–1959), as well as Goya (1746–1828) and Picasso (1881–1973), is particularly felt (see, for example, Disparates (A Little Night Music) 1969, T04141, and Pandora 1985, reproduced in Hyman, 1987, p.16).
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, exhi