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Francis Bacon’s Portraits from Life

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Date:1620-22   Artist:unknown
Location: Lazienki Palace, Royal Baths Museum, Warsaw, Poland
Medium: oil on wood
Provenance: Prince Michał Poniatowski, Archbishop, Primate of Poland and member of the Royal Society, gifted to Stanislaus Augustus 1783-93; transferred to Lazienki Palace in 1795
Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Although the identity of the artist responsible for this modified reproduction of the Royal Society’s original portrait by Paul van Somer is unknown, it is painted with great assurance and not merely as a slavish copy. The red curtain in the original has been removed in favour of a striking vermilion background, unique in the canon of Baconian portraits. The framing is tighter, omitting the hands, the table and the purse of the Great Seal of England. Also, the lace ruff is quite different to the one in the Royal Society picture. In fact it closely resembles the ruff Francis is wearing in the full-length Gorhambury portrait. While the face matches that of the painting owned by the Royal Society, in the Lazienki Palace portrait the highlights are brighter. The mouth is more clearly defined and the expression is more serious. The inscription in the upper left corner reads, “Sir Francis Bacon Lord Keeper and afterwards Lord Chancellor of England, 1617.” Remembering that, according to the Julian Calendar, Bacon was appointed as Lord High Chancellor in 1617, the inscription is a statement of historical fact, rather than an indication of the year the portrait was painted. In 2016 scientific analysis of the growth rings of the timber support panels revealed that it was produced around 1620-22.