Federico de Francesco Creates Bold, Matisse-Inspired Works

The Italian-born painter is catching the eye of collectors, including artist Alex Katz

Federico de Francesco.
Photo: Joshua McHugh

There’s a lot to see in Federico de Francesco’s abstract canvases. There’s his admiration of Matisse, whose paintings and cutouts de Francesco has copied and incorporated into the just-visible underpainting of some of his compositions. There’s his lifelong passion for classical music, which is expressed in his harmonic palette and lyrical gestures. There’s also a comment on contemporary urban life—a sense of urgency reflected in the occasional aggressive bursts of brushwork.

But most of all, what you see in his exuberant canvases is the love of painting itself. “For me, painting is about freedom,” says the artist, standing in the Tribeca studio he moved into just two months ago. “It’s a journey where you are free to travel anywhere.”

Federico de Francesco, in front of his 2017 painting *Homage to Creole Dancer 1.* Photo: Joshua McHugh

The palpable joy de Francesco, 38, gets from his work may be owed, in part, to the fact that his freedom is so newfound. It has only been a few years since the Italian-born artist, who has a Ph.D. in macroeconomics from U.C.L.A., quit his job at an investment bank. “Working at the bank while painting at nights and on the weekends was, well, intense,” he says with a smile. Another breakthrough has been his recent shift from small canvases to those that are six feet square (and larger), which he paints in pairs—the two canvases are set up side by side so that he can ping-pong between them. “The physicality changed everything,” he says. “I’m suddenly in the painting.”

And this late bloomer is on the precipice of something big. He counts among his mentors the painter Alex Katz, who purchased one of de Francesco’s works for the Katz Foundation, and he’s currently being courted by several galleries (he plans to make his decision this summer). “I am an artist,” he says with some wonderment. “I finally have the courage to say it.”