June 24, 2009

The Art of Sir Peter Lely

Sir Peter Lely (1618 – 1680) was born into a Dutch family that was living in Germany and was originally named Pieter van der Faes. He trained in Haarlem, but in the 1640s he moved to England, where he spend most of his working life.

(Lely, Sir Peter. Diane Kirke, later Countess of Oxford.
c. 1665. oil on canvas.
Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, US.)

His early English paintings were mainly mythological or religious scenes and his portraits were set in a pastoral landscape that shows the influence of Anthony van Dyck as well as Dutch Baroque period. After the deaths of Anthony van Dyck and William Dobson, Lely became the England's leading portrait painter.

(Lely, Sir Peter. John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.
c. 1647. oil on canvas.)

Lely was made principal painter to the king in 1661 and he was naturalized in 1662. Lely painted a range of sitters, among them Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, but it is as the image-maker of the Restoration court of Charles II that he is best remembered. He lived in grand style and amassed a magnificent collection of art, although was only knighted just months before he died.

(Lely, Sir Peter. Mary Moll Davis.
c. 1662. oil on canvas.)

The demand for his work was high, Lely and his large workshop were prolific. After Lely painted a sitter's head, Lely's assistants and pupils would often complete the portrait in one of a series of numbered poses. Lely’s female subjects all have the signature "Lely’s eyes", which gave many of his sitters a similar look. As a result Lely is the first English painter to have left an enormous mass of work, although the quality of his studio pieces is variable.

(Lely, Sir Peter. Portrait of a Young Lady & Child as Venus & Cupid.
c. 1664. oil on canvas.)

Lely is now regarded as a leading artist of the English Restoration. He was a master colorist and his style was best manifested in exquisite draperies of his subjects. His portraiture always flattered the sitters. The ‘Windsor Beauties’, a series of painted ladies at Hampton Court, show voluptuous and dreamy figures while the ‘Flagmen of Lowestoft’, display his talent in portraying characters at its best. His female portraits are absolutely exquisite and his work is much appreciated here!

Enjoy :)

Reference: King, R. Art. New York: Dk Publishing, 2008.