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Francis Bacon’s Portraits from Life

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Date: 1566-73? Artist: unknown
Location: Gorhambury Estate, St Albans, Hertfordshire
Medium: polychrome terracotta
Provenance: never sold
Image credit: souce unknown

Perhaps the most controversial portrait in the collection is this exquisite, life-like bust of a boy whose precise age is difficult to determine. The anonymous sculptor has masterfully captured the expression and bearing of a child of unusual confidence, alertness and intelligence. His steady, penetrating gaze seems to be contemplating the future, or the mystery of life itself. Whether this is a portrait of Francis or Anthony Bacon is for the viewer to decide, but until proven otherwise, its inclusion here is based on the weight of the long-held tradition that the boy in question is Francis. The bust must be seen in its intended context of a group portrait in order to appreciate its original purpose and significance. The same sculptor, possibly an Italian, was commissioned to create companion portraits of Sir Nicholas and Lady Anne Bacon to stand beside the young boy. The question arises: if Francis and Anthony were biological brothers why is there not a fourth bust? Perhaps it is for the same reason that there is no extant portrait of Anthony Bacon as a baby. One possibility is that the bust is a demonstration of the Bacon’s devotion to the Queen as foster parents to her secret offspring.