(click image to enlarge)
In 1938, Frank Archer won the coveted Prix de Rome in Engraving, which allowed him to study for three years at the British School at Rome. His stay in Italy was unfortunately cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Nevertheless, the months that he spent in the country initiated ‘a life-long association with [it] and a deep love for its landscape and architecture’ (as he explained in ‘a brief autobiography’ in the catalogue to his retrospective at London’s Bankside Gallery in 1990).
This work was produced by Archer soon after his arrival in Italy in 1938. Its strong sense of design, in which solid figures are well integrated into an architectural setting, shows how he adjusted his abilities as a draughtsman to fit the traditions and aspirations of students of the British School at Rome. They also reveal his love for his new, if temporary home, while suggesting the potential vulnerability of its way of life and a tension presaging conflict.
The work is possibly a study for a mural, and the quotation from the Gospel According to St Matthew – ‘We have piped unto you and you have not danced’ – is typical of the subjects set for mural projects at art schools at the time. However, it is one that would have particularly appealed to Archer, who said that the Bible was, from an early age, ‘by far the most potent influence in my life’.