Exhibitions: Looking Forward, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1952
Peter de Francia, After the Bombing, James Hyman Gallery, 11 March - 15 April 2005.
One of Peter de Francia's largest paintings, The Execution of Beloyannis, is the first of his three major political paintings of the post-war period, predating The Bombing of Sakiet (currently on show at Tate Modern) and The African Prison (Sheffield City Art Galleries).
Although this painting was only exhibited for the first time in 2005 (see the exhibitions section on this website), the present pencil study for the work was shown in Looking Forward, the famous exhibition curated by John Berger as a showcase for his view of realism, which was staged at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in late 1952 and then toured Britain under the auspices of the Arts Council.
The subject depicted is an infamous event in post-civil-war Greek history.
On 30th March 1952, Nikos Beloyannis was executed before dawn along with seven other men, on the dubious charge of espionage involving high treason. International protests over Beloyannis's sentence were led by Jean-Paul Sartre and Picasso, as claims were made that he was being executed simply for being a communist, to remove a popular and charismatic potential leader. A picture of Beloyannis holding a red carnation that had been handed to him was reproduced around the world in an attempt to have his sentence revoked and he became known as the 'man with the red carnation'.
Peter de Francia's response to this event is both horrifically brutal and tragically beautiful, with two of the men clasping hands in their final moments and the carnation resting poignantly between Beloyannis's open fingers.