New portrait of Francis Crick revealed on his 100th birthday

08 June 2016

Biomedical research hub the Francis Crick Institute has revealed a new portrait of Francis Crick to coincide with Crick's centenary on 8 June 2016.

The picture, by Irish artist Robert Ballagh, was commissioned by James Watson, with whom Crick famously discovered the structure of DNA, to hang in the institute's iconic new building when it opens later this year.

The Francis Crick Institute is dedicated to discovering the fundamental biology underlying human health, and will be the largest biomedical research institute under a single roof in Europe.

James Watson asked Irish painter Robert Ballagh, who had previously painted Watson himself, to create a portrait to honour Crick within the institute's new building next to St Pancras International.

Crick and Watson's work led to the identification of the structure of DNA in 1953, drawing on the work of Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and others. Their discovery is considered one of the most significant in modern science and has transformed our understanding of human life and biology. 

The painting shows Crick standing in front of a blackboard bearing the words 'DNA = RNA = protein', the revelation of how DNA codes for life. In front of him are two key papers, rendered in such detail that viewers will be able to read them: his Nobel acceptance speech, and a scientific paper he wrote on unravelling the genetic code.

Robert Ballagh said: 'Among the many fascinating characters that I have painted I am privileged to be able to add two great men of science, James Watson and Francis Crick, to a list that boasts many great literary figures like Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Harold Pinter.

'Jim's personal knowledge of Francis Crick was invaluable to me in creating the painting. He was of the firm opinion that Crick should be portrayed in his forties, when, Jim said, he was at the height of his powers. He also suggested that I should consider placing Crick at a lectern in order to represent his immense skills in scientific communication'.

James Watson said: 'Bobby Ballagh's forceful painting of Francis Crick humanly conveys the intelligent, never waffling personality that so positively dominated the molecular biology of the 1950s and 1960s when the double helical structure of DNA was elucidated and the genetic code put together.'

Sir Paul Nurse, Director of the Francis Crick Institute, said: 'Our institute is named after Francis Crick not only because he is one of the giants of 20th-century science, but because his personal characteristics reflect our vision. Crick was noted for his openness to new ideas and his collaborations with scientists in other fields of expertise - some of the founding principles for our institute. In that spirit, we hope to provide some of the great biological revelations of the 21st century, and ultimately to improve human health.

'We are grateful to Jim Watson for providing this portrait, and to Robert Ballagh for realising Jim's vision so wonderfully.'

Images of the portrait and the artist are available to download at:

These are free to use; please credit appropriately (see filenames).

For more information, contact

Elaine Snell, press office, Francis Crick Institute, on 020 7611 2169 or  

Notes to editors

*The Francis Crick Institute (the Crick) is a research institute dedicated to discovering the fundamental biology underlying human health, with the aim of improving the treatment, diagnosis and prevention of human disease. The Crick was formed on 1 April 2015 and is a registered charity. It is a partnership between the Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the Wellcome Trust, University College London (UCL), Imperial College London and King's College London. Its work is helping to understand why disease develops and to find new ways to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, infections, and neurodegenerative diseases. From the second half of 2016, the Crick will be located in a new, purpose-built research centre in central London (next to St Pancras International), housing some 1,300 researchers and 250 support staff.


*Francis Crick (1916-2004) was one of Britain's great scientists. He is best known for his work with James Watson which led to the identification of the structure of DNA in 1953, drawing on the work of Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and others. This discovery proved to be of enormous importance to biomedical research - and to life and health - and earned Crick, Watson and Wilkins the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962.


*Robert Ballagh is an Irish artist, painter and designer who is particularly well known for his realistic renderings of well-known literary, historical or establishment figures. Born in Dublin in 1943, he studied architecture and worked for a time as a professional musician, a postman and an engineering draughtsman. He has been painting professionally since his first exhibition in Dublin in 1969.Ballagh's work as a painter is represented in many important collections including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Crawford Municipal Gallery, Cork, the Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane, the Ulster Museum and the Albrecht Dürer House, Nuremberg. Major survey exhibitions of his work have taken place in Lund, Warsaw, Moscow, and Sofia. In 2006 a career retrospective was staged in the RHA Gallery, Dublin. As a graphic designer, he has produced book covers, posters, limited edition prints, 66 stamps for the Irish postal service and the last Irish bank notes produced by the Central Bank of Ireland.

  • Picture was commissioned by James Watson
  • Painting to hang in the new institute that bears Crick's name
  • Crick and Watson famously discovered the structure of DNA