De Francia, Peter (3 of 20). National Life Stories Collection: Artists' Lives.

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  • Recording date

    2000-02-24, 2000-03-23, 2000-05-15, 2000-07-20, 2000-08-11, 2000-09-28, 2000-10-04, 2001-02-14

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home in London

  • Interviewees

    De Francia, Peter, 1921-2012 (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Roberts, Melanie (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Peter de Francia [PdeF] talks about his meeting with Boeckle in the Louvre as a child being one of the things that may have given him the idea of becoming an artist. Returning to the period shortly before the war, Peter de Francia says that he does not remember the impending war being discussed in the home. He refers to his parents lack of interest in politics again, and comments on the fact that his being known to be a political person highlights the oddity of attitudes in Britain that judge a person who is interested in politics to be political. He feels this has led to his being categorised as being more actively political than he is. His mentions that his father died because of respiratory problems. Thinking of early memories, he talks of his aunts living in an immense flat overlooking the Tuilerie Gardens, with balconies along the front and of his seeing the funeral of Marshall Foche. Peter de Francia talks about Brussels being both provincial and cosmopolitan, and having wonderful art collections. He describes the attractions of being able to take a tram from the Bourse and be in the countryside very quickly. He chose Belgium to go to after his father's death as it was neutral although he now sees that it was an obvious target for the Germans. Talking about the Academy he was struck by the huge size of the windows, suggesting that it should be a model of what art schools should be nowadays. He says there was virtually no administration unlike now where bureaucracy, pomp, and ritual abound. He talks about approaching a sympathetic Rector at the (Royal) College, Lord Esher, about getting rid of much of it. This was not popular amongst other staff and he goes on to suggest that the RCA has a vastly inflated reputation. He expands on this theme at some length PdeF refers to the French philosopher, Bachelard, who when asked if art was dying, said no, there was just too much of it. This reflects his feelings that there is more activity at the moment than the system can usefully absorb. Returning to his childhood, Peter de Francia refers to his father's death triggering his desire to get out of Paris. He says that it was the first time that he had confronted death even though he had plenty of experience of it after this. He talks of his mother leaving Paris for England at this time and not returning. He says that he had relatively little contact with her after this. When he came to England to be in the army he remembers being lonely, particularly as he had very few contacts in England. After being in the army he got a grant to the Slade which he refers to as being pretty useless, via Kenneth Clarke. He spent part of this time in Norfolk and then afterwards went to Italy, which he feels was the most exciting time of his life [1946]. He lived part of the time in Rome where he had a studio in what had been the Prix de Rome building, the Villa Massimo. There were big studios which were occupied by good artists including Massacurati. The studios were on the ground floor with accommodation above. In the post war period these were occupied by refugees. He describes the gardens being full of endless lines of nappies. PdeF suggests this time was liberating both personally and for Italy as a country. PdeF remembers Italy as being a unique experience - truly liberating. Referring back to the time of his father's death and his decision to move to Belgium, it is clear that he was given little advice by his mother, who moved to London at the same time. Almost the whole family left Paris, never to return and he describes it as an end of an era. PdeF talks of his mother having been born in London and adapted well to this mid life move. He talks of family finances being a problem after his father's death, with his mother being comfortably but not well off. His mother is described as a profoundly domesticated person with limited interests and a small friendship circle. This led to problems of communication for Peter de Francia.

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