Sir Francis Drake portrait comes home to Devon

This year the portrait of Sir Francis Drake, which belongs to the National Portrait Gallery, will be coming to Buckland Abbey. A rare opportunity to see this wonderful Elizabethan portrait exhibited outside of London and in the sea farer’s former home in Devon.

The painting will travel to Buckland Abbey as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s COMING HOME project, which will see the Gallery lend 50 portraits of iconic individuals to places across the UK with which they are most closely associated; this portrait will be on display at Buckland Abbey from April 27th to 22nd September.

The portrait was painted c.1581 and will hanging the local sea farer’s former home in Devon, near Tavistock for five months so that local residents can see the Elizabethan portrait for the first time on their doorstep. In an exhibition titled ‘Coming Home – Sir Francis Drake at Buckland’ this Elizabethan painting will be on display in the Nave gallery at the Abbey.

Alison Cooper the National Trust’s curator says ‘The painting was created shortly after Drake came home from his circumnavigation of the globe. In 1581 following his return, his life entirely changed. His voyage made him famous as well as fabulously wealthy. He was knighted by Elizabeth I, and was able to purchase Buckland Abbey – a country home that befitted his new found status.’

‘He then became mayor of Plymouth and an MP. He was even granted his own Coat of Arms with a motto that reminded him of his yeomanry birth – sic parvis magna – from small beginnings, great things. He had ‘made it’. This display centring on Drake’s portrait aims to explore how Drake presented himself and his new found status, and, as part of this, the importance of his new home at Buckland Abbey. It’s a wonderful opportunity for Buckland to be able to borrow this portrait and put it on public display outside of London. The fact that we are able to bring it back to Drake’s former home where it may have been during Drake’s lifetime, makes this prospect even more exciting’.

The display will bring together Drake’s portrait along with a portrait of Lady Elizabethan Sydenham – Drake’s second wife – belonging to Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery. Thought to be a marriage portrait, both paintings previously belonged to the same owner, so will be re-united in this display for the first time in over 60 years.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery said: ‘We are delighted to lend Sir Francis Drake to Buckland Abbey as part of our exciting new COMING HOME initiative. We hope that sending portraits ‘home’ in this way will foster a sense of pride and create a personal connection for local communities to a bigger national history; thus helping us to fulfil our aim of being truly a national gallery for everyone, in our role as the nation’s family album.’

Carol Murrin, General Manager of Buckland Abbey says ‘the portrait that’s being loaned from the National Portrait Gallery perfectly sums up a critical point success point in Drake’s life that is bound up with his purchase of Buckland. Buckland Abbey was in many ways an expression of his elevated social class. This was the grand country residence that previously was the preserve of the very rich or aristocratic. A new house, a Coat of Arms, a place at court – these were all the trappings of a person with important social standing. So too, was having a portrait painted, and the people of Devon get to come and see it at Drake’s own home’.

Coming Home – Sir Francis Drake at Buckland Abbey will be open on Saturday 27th April until Sunday 22nd September. COMING HOME has been made possible by the National Portrait Gallery, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, generous contributions from The Thompson Family Charitable Trust and funds raised at the Gallery’s Portrait Gala in 2017.