Born in France to a Franco-Italian father and an English mother, De Francia attended l' Academie Royal des Beaux Arts in Brussels and later studied at the Slade School. From 1973-1986 he was Professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art.

A committed socialist, de Francia established his reputation in the 1950s with his powerful politically and socially-engaged paintings and drawings such as the powerful triptych ‘A Diary of Our Times (1974) in the Gallery's Permanent Collection, which represents a political torture scene from the Algerian war. His highly individual style is rooted in the European figurative tradition of Picasso, Léger, and the German Expressionists Beckmann and Grosz.