Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Gentleman, thought to be William Brouncker, 2nd Viscount Brouncker (1620-1684) Mid-1660s

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Portrait of a Gentleman, thought to be William Brouncker, 2nd Viscount Brouncker (1620-1684), Sir Peter Lely
Oil and Canvas
17th Century
29 ¾ x 25 inches, 75.5 x 63.5cm
Ingestre Hall, Staffordshire, (former home of the Earls of Shrewsbury and the Talbot-Chetwynd family); Thence by descent.
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Peter Lely arrived in London in 1641, previously a master of the Guild of St Luke in Haarlam, and it was not long before the more sombre Dutch-influenced colouring of his portraits was replaced by a more flamboyant palette practiced and championed by the late Van Dyck. Seventeenth-century England saw an increasingly competitive market for portraitists and only the canny survived, it was not simply good enough to imitate, one had to improve and create a distinction for themselves in both artistic and social manners. Described by Pepys as ‘a mighty proud man and full of state’ Lely was nevertheless renowned for his charm, and subsequently enjoyed the most prestigious patronage, including the Duke of Northumberland by 1647 whose collection of Old Masters he studied thoroughly. The success of Lely is establishing himself is perhaps best reflected in his prices; in the 1650’s he charged £5 for a head and £10 for a half-length but by 1660 he was charging £15 and £25 respectively. His portraits therefore also provide an invaluable glimpse into the opportunities for budding entrepreneurs following the Restoration, Lely himself employing a team of assistants which despite charging more for work, churned out portraits on a mass-scale.

This portrait was painted in about the mid-1660s, and is an excellent example of Lely’s style during the early Restoration years. By this point Lely’s confidence was higher than ever, and the seemingly effortless strokes seen here in the foreground of the drapery make no attempt to disguise his flamboyantly bold approach. The portrait is listed as showing an unknown sitter in a 1952 inventory of the collection of the Earls of Shrewsbury at Ingestre Hall. However, the sitter shares a close likeness with the portraiture of William Brouncker, 2nd Viscount Brouncker (1620-1684), a prominent English mathematician and first president of The Royal Society. As well as a renowned mathematician Brouncker also led a successful political career, aided in part by his declaration of Royalist support following the Restoration, and was a member of parliament for Westbury, Wiltshire in 1660. In 1662 Brouncker was appointed Chancellor to Queen Catherine and keeper of her great seal and in the following years became close friends with King Charles II, whom he frequently visited and discussed topics relating to the sciences. It was no doubt a result of this friendship that The Royal Society was formed in 1660 and Brouncker appointed the first president, a post which he held until he resigned in 1677.

Brouncker’s likeness is mostly known through a series of larger copies after a lost Lely original, for example that in The Royal Society, and it could be that the present portrait was worked up into a larger format for wider circulation. Membership of The Royal Society, which was founded in 1660 under the patronage of Charles II ‘for improving natural knowledge’, was very much a circle in which Lely moved.

To be included in the catalogue raisonné of Lely’s works, being prepared by Diana Dethloff and Catharine MacLeod, who have inspected the portrait.
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