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Francis Bacon’s Portraits from Life

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Date: 1617-18 Artist: William Larkin (c.1580 – 1619)
Location: Trinity College, University of Cambridge
Medium: oil on panel
Provenance: gift of Peter Burrell, 1761
Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Larkin’s second portrait of Francis Bacon appears at first sight to be quite different to the first. Gone are the elaborate folds of red silk drapery, perhaps the most distinctive hallmark of Larkins’ aristocratic portraits. Prior to his rediscovery in the 1950s and ‘60s, his pictures had been attributed to the “Curtain Master”, since the artist’s identity had slipped into anonymity after his untimely death in 1619. Yet, here, the absence of any background accentuates the highlights of the hand and cuff, elaborate lace ruff and Francis’s face surrounded by a sea of black. Closer comparison reveals that the faces in both portraits are virtually identical, as is the alignment of the body within the frame. This suggests that the original master drawings for the 1610 portrait were re-used seven years later. The date of 1617 is invariably given for Larkin’s second portrait of Francis, however it shows him wearing the ceremonial black and gold-embroidered gown of Lord Chancellor, a position he did not ascend to until January 4, 1618. It could be that this anomaly may be due to the fact that until 1752, the new year in England was celebrated on the 25th of March, according to the Julian calendar. It would follow that, based on the Gregorian calendar, Larkin may have completed the painting between early-January and late-March 1618.