Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Young Boy, thought to be Thomas Betenson (bap. 1667), late 1670s 

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Portrait of a Young Boy, thought to be Thomas Betenson (bap. 1667), late 1670s, Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
29 ½ x 24 ⅜ in. (75 x 62 cm.)
Possibly commissioned by Richard Betenson (1632-77); By family descent; Knight, Frank & Rutley, The Sydney Collection at Frognal, Chislehurst, Kent, 7 June 1915, lot 78; Sir James Horlick, by whom sold; Messrs. Gudgeon & Sons, Catalogue of the 17th & 18th century Furniture, Aubusson, Flemish & Mortlake Tapestries, Pictures etc. 11-14 May, 1926, lot 433; Private collection
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This exceptionally engaging child portrait by the court painter Sir Peter Lely can be dated to the late 1670s, and is a fine example of the artist’s confident, virtuoso handling in the later stages of his career.

Until recently, the identity of this young boy was unknown, however, recent research suggests he is probably Thomas Betenson, who was baptised in 1667. The Betensons became a prominent family in Kent following the purchase of Scadbury and Chislehurst Manors in 1660 by Sir Richard Betenson of Essex, who was the last person to be knighted by King James I. His eldest son, also Richard Betenson, married Albinia Wray of Ashby in Lincolnshire, and together they had nine children, including Thomas, before Richard pre-deceased his father in 1677. The estates of both Scadbury and Chislehurst were then inherited by his son Edward Betenson and then, after his death, they passed to his sisters Frances, Albinia and Theodosia. It was through the descendants of Albinia Selwyn (née Betenson) that the family eventually purchased the Frognal estate in Chislehurst, where this portrait hung until 1915.

Sir Peter Lely dominated the art world in England following the death of Sir Anthony van Dyck in 1641. Though Pepys famously described him as ‘a mighty proud man and full of state’, the particular brio of his technique and his considerable personal charm guaranteed him the most prestigious patronage. It was following the Restoration in 1660 that Lely painted some of his most iconic works; his sitters wished to be portrayed with all the flamboyance of their Caroline predecessors, and not the austere worthiness of the hated Cromwellian interregnum.

This dynamic composition, in which the sitter is shown contrapposto facing the viewer, was much favoured by Lely and reflects the baroque obsession with drama and movement. The painted stone cartouche is typical of this period, and was a visual conceit employed by a number of notable painters of the day, to add grandeur and visual solidity to compositions.
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