Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait head of a Lady 

Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt. (1646-1723)

Portrait head of a Lady, Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt.
Oil on canvas
17th Century
13 ½ x 9 ½ inches, 34.3 x 24.1 cm
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This captivating portrait by the leading late seventeenth and early eighteenth century court artist, Sir Godfrey Kneller, has been cut down from a larger painting, probably at some point in the early twentieth century. It shows Kneller’s delicate and intimate approach to his female faces, and is very like his individual portrait drawings with their emphasis on sharp features and alluring eyes. The face here has been rapidly, almost roughly painted, with bold areas of impasto giving way to areas where almost no paint has been applied at all, a trick that allowed Kneller to use the blue-grey ground layer to show darker flesh tones. The technique brings to mind Kneller’s own advice, when rebuking those who peered at his works too closely, ‘My paintings were not made for smelling of…’.

Kneller dominates our understanding of British portraiture at the turn of the seventeenth century. With Van Dyck, Lely and Reynolds, his name has become synonymous with the visual interpretation of British history – not least because he painted almost every person of prominence in forty years of British public life. Every reigning British monarch from Charles II to George I sat to Kneller.

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