In this portrait Francis Beckford (d. 1768) is dressed in a smart blue velvet coat, with matching cloth-covered buttons. His pose is derived from a half-length portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-69) (Royal Collection Trust, Windsor), painted in 1632 by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). The adaptation of a traditionally feminine attitude to a male portrait, although unusual, was a quite deliberate ploy, especially since in the pendant portrait of Beckford's wife (Tate N05799) Reynolds has adapted a pose from a male Van Dyck portrait. Whether either of the sitters was aware of this unusual role reversal is unknown.
Reynolds began work on the present portrait at 10 a.m. on 10 December 1755, when Reynolds recorded the first sitting with Francis Beckford in his pocket book for that year. A second sitting took place on 15 December, again at 10 a.m. Further appointments are recorded at midday on 19 and 31 December. On the last page of the pocket book Reynolds scheduled a fifth appointment for midday, 5 January 1756. It is unknown whether further sittings were required, since the pocket book for 1756 is missing.
Francis Beckford's father had been Governor of Jamaica. With extensive investments in the island's sugar plantations and in the slave trade, he was reputed at the height of his career to have been the richest British subject. He also had a reputation for violence, murdering the Deputy Judge-Advocate of Jamaica. On his death his vast fortune was divided among his nine legitimate children, including Francis and his elder brother William 'Alderman' Beckford (1709-70), who became the father of the celebrated aesthete, William Beckford of Fonthill Abbey (1760-1844). On 8 March 1743 Francis Beckford married Lady Albinia Bertie, who died on 12 February 1754. Just over a year later, on 2 February he married Susannah Love (d.1803), daughter of Richard Love of Basing Park, Hampshire, an heiress whose fortune at her marriage was estimated at £20,000. Their son, Francis Love Beckford, succeeded to his maternal grandfather's seat at Basing Park. He married Mrs Joanna Lloyd (b.1758), who was portrayed by Reynolds while married to her first husband, in a painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1776 (Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire).
David Mannings and Martin Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds. A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols., New Haven and London 2000, vol.1, p.82, vol.2, p.177, fig.153