Life and Artistry of Sir Nathaniel Bacon
Sir Nathaniel Bacon, KB, was an accomplished English painter, renowned landowner, and horticulturist hailing from Culford, Suffolk. His contributions to the art world, particularly his distinctive kitchen and market scenes, have left a lasting mark on British painting.
Bacon’s artistic forte lay in creating captivating kitchen and market scenes, characterized by vibrant still-life portrayals of oversized vegetables and fruits. These scenes often featured a robust maid and are exemplified by his famous work, “The Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit” (Tate Gallery London). It’s worth noting that this inclination toward cook and market scenes was more commonly associated with Dutch and Flemish painters, such as Joachim Beuckelaer, Pieter Cornelisz van Rijck, and Cornelis Jacobsz Delff. Historically, only nine of Bacon’s paintings were thought to have survived until the identification of a portrait in Government House, Sydney, as a representation of his wife, Jane, Lady Cornwallis.
Beyond his kitchen scenes, Bacon’s artistic repertoire extended to landscapes, self-portraits, and various other portraits. His innovation in British landscape painting is notably significant, marking him as a pioneer in this genre.
In recognition of his artistic achievements, Sir Nathaniel Bacon was granted the esteemed title of Knight of the Bath in 1625, an honor bestowed upon him in connection with the coronation of Charles I.
Personal Life and Family Ties
Sir Nathaniel Bacon’s family background was steeped in political and intellectual prominence during late Elizabethan England. He was the youngest son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, 1st Baronet, of Redgrave, who was the elder brother of the eminent statesman and philosopher, Francis Bacon, also known as Lord Verulam. This familial connection provided Nathaniel Bacon with links to the political elite of his era.
In 1613 or 1614, Bacon entered into matrimony with Jane Cornwallis (née Meautys), a lady of distinction who was previously married to Sir William Cornwallis and was the mother of Frederick Cornwallis, 1st Baron Cornwallis.
Tragedy struck the Bacon family as Sir Nathaniel Bacon passed away at the age of 42, likely due to tuberculosis. He was laid to rest on 1st July 1627 at Culford Hall, which has since been rebuilt and renamed Culford Park. Their three-year-old daughter, Jane, succumbed to the same fate in October of that year and was interred alongside her father, their burials recorded consecutively in the Culford Parish Burial Register. Another daughter, Anne, went on to marry Sir Thomas Meautys in 1639.
Of note, Anne, Lady Drury, was Nathaniel Bacon’s sister, and it is believed that he may have exerted some influence on the remarkable series of small paintings constituting Lady Drury’s Closet.
To commemorate Sir Nathaniel Bacon’s life and contributions, a monument designed by sculptor Nicholas Stone stands at St Mary’s Church, Culford. His brother, Sir Edmund Bacon, witnessed the monument’s creation at Stone’s workshop in London’s Long Acre in June 1628 and noted its progress.
Sir Nathaniel Bacon’s legacy endures through his pioneering work in landscape painting and his distinctive still-life compositions, making him a noteworthy figure in the annals of English art history.