Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Mary Farrington (née Smith) (d.1717) 

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Portrait of Mary Farrington (née Smith) (d.1717), Sir Peter Lely
Oil and Canvas
17th Century
30 1/8 x 25 ins (76.5 x 63.5 cm)
Agnew's, London, by 1948; Anonymous sale; Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 16 November 1979, lot 145, as Circle of Sir Peter Lely; Dr. Robert P. Coggins, Marietta, Georgia; Private Collection, USA.
R.B. Becket, Lely, London, 1951, p. 42, no. 149 as ‘Dame Ann Dashwood’.
Kennesaw College, 1980s.
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Sir Peter Lely’s character and talent dominated the art world in 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 (whom he admired to such an extent that he owned Van Dyck’s last Self-Portrait) 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 – and for nearly twenty years royal patronage from his position as Principle Painter to King Charles II. 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 enigmatic portrait, set within a feigned oval stone frame, is a fine example of Lely’s technique towards the end of his career, and was dated by R. B. Becket in his Lely monograph to c.1675. These late works are noted for their subtle flesh tones and tangible forms, which, in the case of the present work, was until recently left concealed by generations of discoloured varnish. Now removed, areas of spontaneity, seen especially in the background, have also come to light and reflect the increasingly gestural approach of Lely in his late works.

The sitter is Mary Farrington (née Smith), daughter of wealthy Hampshire landowner John Smith (d.1690) and his wife Mary Wright (b.1623) and husband of merchant Thomas Farrington of Chislehurst, Kent. Little information can be found on Mary’s life although we do know that she had at least one brother, John Smith (1655/6-1723), a politician and twice Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a sister, Anne, who would later marry Sir Samuel Dashwood (1642-1705).

In 1663 Mary married Thomas Farrington and in c.1664 they had their first and only son, Thomas Farrington (c.1664-1712), who went on to lead a successful career in the military as well as representing the borough of Malmesbury in parliament between 1705-12.
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