Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Anne Hyde, Duchess of York (1637–1671) 1665c.

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Portrait of Anne Hyde, Duchess of York (1637–1671), Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
37 ½ x 33 inches, 95.2 x 83.8 cm
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Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, was one of Lely’s most important and regular patrons. She was also one of his most popular sitters, and he and his studio made numerous copies for her many admirers. There were ten unsold portraits of the Duchess in Lely’s studio after his death. However, the present example is an important autograph portrait by Lely himself. It almost certainly derives from a sitting in about 1662.

The numerous pentiments visible in this portrait allow us to see Lely’s attempts to perfect the composition and details. Anne’s right arm and hand have been fractionally lowered from their original position, while the fingers on her left hand have been subtly adjusted. Anne’s necklace has been slightly raised to sit higher on the neck. Such signs of labour are useful indicators of Lely’s personal involvement, and suggest that the present work is the prime version of other larger variants, two of which, a half-length and a three-quarter length, are in the Royal Collection.

Anne Hyde was the first wife of James, Duke of York, later King James II. She enjoyed, as much by virtue of her sharp intellect as her position, a ringside view in the numerous plots and intrigues of Charles II’s reign. Her marriage to James was initially viewed with horror, for, as the daughter of Charles II’s principle adviser in exile, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, she was not considered suitable marriage material for a royal prince. Her father, at any rate, was furious and embarrassed when Anne announced she was pregnant and that she and James had secretly married. He even suggested she be sent to the Tower and executed. However, James and Anne enjoyed Charles II’s indulgent approval, and the marriage stood.

James and Anne seemed naturally suited to each other. Pepys commented (disapprovingly) on their familiarity in public, and such was their closeness that suspicion was raised over how much influence Anne had over the potential heir to the throne. ‘The duke of York, in all things but his codpiece, is led by the nose by his wife’, wrote Pepys. Anne was acutely aware of her position as future Queen, given Charles’ inability to produce a legitimate heir, and actively sought to protect James’ position. However, as Pepys attests, James was, like his brother, an incurably priapic prince. His many mistresses infuriated Anne, and drove her not only to fits of jealousy, but, much to the detriment of her figure, to seek solace in food. Anne died long before her chance to

become Queen, in 1671, but her two daughters, Mary and Anne, became the last Stuart monarchs of England.

Sir Peter Lely’s character and talent dominated the art world of the second half of the seventeenth century in England. Though Pepys famously described him as ‘a mighty proud man and full of state’, Lely’s skill for portraiture meant he assumed the mantle of Sir Anthony Van Dyck with ease. Despite sharing the stage with many accomplished painters, the particular brio of his technique and his considerable personal charm guaranteed him the most prestigious patronage. Everyone of consequence in his age sat to him, and it is in his portraits that we form our conception of the cautious solemnity of the 1650s and the scandalous excesses of the years following the Restoration.

This portrait type has been dated by Sir Oliver Millar to c. 1662, shortly after the Restoration. The present painting is a good example of Lely’s technique at this time, as fashion and society, and therefore portraiture, emerged from the Puritan austerity of the Protectorate. Here, the elegant inspiration of Van Dyck can be seen, tailored to suit the taste for portraits in the grand Carolinian style in a symbolic reminder of the return of royalty. Anne’s teasing playing of her hair is deliberately suggestive of a royal consort’s prime role – breeding – but also a reminder of her great wit.
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