Francesco Malagola was born in Florence in 1918, the son of Guido Malagola, Conte Cappi and Alexandra Dunbar Marshall. He was also known as Francis Dunbar Marshall Malagola, (exhibiting internationally under the name of Dunbar Marshall). He lived and travelled in many countries, and from 1967-85 acted as Secretary-General of UNESCO’s International Association of Art in Paris.
In the mid-1930s, he studied at Westminster College of Art, where his teachers were Mark Gertler and Bernard Meninsky. From 1948-52, he studied at Chelsea School of Art, under Ceri Richards and Robert Medley. For his first exhibition at the Grabowski Gallery in London in 1961, the painter Roy Spencer wrote:
‘like many of us, he is still reeling from last years’s Picasso exhibition … his thinking loyalty lies with the Piero-Poussin-Cézanne-Mondrian succession.’
In a 1964 letter to Ruth Borchard, he wrote,
‘My only self-portrait is dated 1957. It was done as a loosening-up exercise but it is a good likeness and decent enough to publish without disgrace… My painting is 20” x 16”, oil and sand on asbestos – absolutely stable but brittle.’
Ruth paid fifteeen guineas.
Dunbar Marshal’s self-portrait was painted when he was thirty-nine years old. Although depicting a man in middle-age, or on the cusp of it, this feels in many ways like the self-portrait of a young man – not only physically (his hair is dark and full, his features lean, almost boyish) but psychologically too. It seems to announce an artist now worthy of real attention. The choice of a dark blue artist’s smock, the look at once curiously direct yet withdrawn from behind metal-rimmed spectacles (barely but fluently sketched in), the full but expressionless lips – all proclaim seriousness of intent, cool professionalism.
There is quiet confidence too in the ingenious yet unshowy handling of paint – touches like the streak of white glistening on the shirt collar, the subtle line of vivid emerald green on the side of the dull, greyish canvas.