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Francis Bacon’s Portraits from Life

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Gallery image 9 of 14

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Date: 1618 Artist: Studio of Paul van Somer 1 (c. 1577 – 1621)
Location: Gorhambury Estate, St Albans, Hertfordshire
Medium: oil on canvas.
Provenance: never sold
Image credit: Bridgeman Images

There is no doubt that this beautifully preserved portrait originally hung in Old Gorhambury House for over 150 years before being transferred to New Gorhambury House, where is has remained for the last 250 years. The same is true of the full-length version, painted in the same year by Paul van Somer, which has also always remained part of the Gorhambury Estate.

Whereas the full-length painting is a tour de force of official portraiture befitting a Lord High Chancellor, this picture is less formal, less intimidating. The somewhat care-worn, yet benign face of the subject is shown for the first and only time without a hat, which has been placed on the table beside the purse of the Great Seal. An almost exact copy of this portrait in which Francis is wearing his hat resides at Chequers Court, and there is said to be another copy at Gray’s Inn. If, as Sir Roy Strong claimed in the NPG Catalogue in 1969, this magnificent portrait was created posthumously, why would Francis be represented so informally, and why has this picture been so jealously retained by the owners of Gorhambury House? In the future, forensic research may be able to authenticate this painting as a genuine contemporary work by Paul van Somer.