Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a lady from the Popham family, c.1665 1655c.

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Portrait of a lady from the Popham family, c.1665, Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Littlecote House
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Lelyís work in the 1650s includes some of his most satisfying works from the point of view of pure painting. Unlike the theatrical Baroque of the Restoration, these more restrained pieces from the years of the Commonwealth serve to remind us both that the years spent under the rule of Cromwell were far from a cultural wasteland, and that Lely as a painter was capable of creating some of his most satisfying work from a restrained palette and unpretentious subjects. The tonality from blue grey through brown to a cool dark yellow is exquisitely balanced and so finely poised that the colour of the sitterís eyes are a pivot of the scheme.

The vigorous hogís hair brushwork of the background is worked with artful carelessness and the shadow falling low down to the left creates a deep and entirely plausible pictoral space. It places the sitter right in front of our gaze, and this, and the off centre placing as if she has just entered from our right create movement and a sense of conversation with what might in other hands have been a purely static image. The echoes of the painterís Dutch roots are significant, since at no other time would the character of England and Holland be so close than in this decade.
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