Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Lady, 1640s 

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Portrait of a Lady, 1640s, Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
24 x 19 1/2 in. (61 x 49.5 cm.)
Private Collection, USA.
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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 Protectorate and the scandalous excesses of the years following the Restoration.

The present portrait, dateable to the early 1640’s, is a fine example of Lely’s early style whilst working in Haarlam under Frans Pieter de Grebber, and just prior to his arrival in England. Here we see the young artist working in a very formal, matter-of-fact style and not yet under the influence of the more virtuoso poses of his predecessor Van Dyck. The colouring is also more modest when compared to his later English works with a greater emphasis placed on the flesh tones and the play of light against them. The confident brilliance of the young painter can be best gleaned in various subtleties such as the single stroke of colour on the sitter’s left bottom eyelid and the glistening light bouncing off the pearl earring.
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