Peter Lely

Last updated

Peter Lely
Peter Lely Selfportrait.jpg
Pieter van der Faes

(1618-09-14)14 September 1618
Died7 December 1680(1680-12-07) (aged 62)
Nationality DutchEnglish
Known for Painting
Signature--peter lely.jpg

Sir Peter Lely (14 September 1618 – 7 December 1680) [1] [2] was a painter of Dutch origin whose career was nearly all spent in England, where he became the dominant portrait painter to the court. He became a naturalised British subject and was knighted in 1679.



Lely was born Pieter van der Faes to Dutch parents in Soest in Westphalia, [3] where his father was an officer serving in the armed forces of the Elector of Brandenburg. Lely studied painting in Haarlem, where he may have been apprenticed to Pieter de Grebber. He became a master of the Guild of Saint Luke in Haarlem in 1637. He is reputed to have adopted the surname "Lely" (also occasionally spelled Lilly) from a heraldic lily on the gable of the house where his father was born in The Hague.

He arrived in London in around 1643, [4] His early English paintings, mainly mythological or religious scenes, or portraits set in a pastoral landscape, show influences from Anthony van Dyck and the Dutch baroque. Lely's portraits were well received, and he succeeded Anthony van Dyck (who had died in 1641) as the most fashionable portrait artist in England. He became a freeman of the Painter-Stainers' Company in 1647 and was portrait artist to Charles I. His talent ensured that his career was not interrupted by Charles's execution, and he served Oliver Cromwell, whom he painted "warts and all", and Richard Cromwell. In the years around 1650 the poet Sir Richard Lovelace wrote two poems about Lely – Peinture and "See what a clouded majesty ..."

Peter Lely - Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich Peter Lely - Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich - Google Art Project.jpg
Peter Lely – Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich

After the English Restoration in 1660, Lely was appointed as Charles II's Principal Painter in Ordinary in 1661, with a stipend of £200 per year, as Van Dyck had enjoyed in the previous Stuart reign. [5] Lely became a naturalised English subject in 1662. The young Robert Hooke came to London to follow an apprenticeship with Lely before being given a place at Westminster School by Richard Busby.

Long-time mistress of Charles II of England, Nell Gwynne as Venus, with her son, Charles Beauclerk, as Cupid. Lely venus-cupid.jpg
Long-time mistress of Charles II of England, Nell Gwynne as Venus, with her son, Charles Beauclerk, as Cupid.

Demand was high, and Lely and his large workshop were prolific.

After Lely painted a sitter's head, Lely's pupils would often complete the portrait in one of a series of numbered poses. As a result, Lely is the first English painter who has left "an enormous mass of work", although the quality of studio pieces is variable. As Brian Sewell put it:

There may well be thousands of these portraits, ranging from rare prime originals of often quite astonishing quality, to crass workshop replicas by assistants drilled to imitate Lely's way with the fashionable face and repeat the stock patterns of the dress, landscapes, flowers, musical instruments and other essential embellishments of portraiture. On Lely's death in 1680 his executors employed a dozen such slaves to complete for sale the many unfinished canvases stacked about his studio. It is these half-and-half and hardly-at-all Lelys that line the corridors of the indigent aristocracy whose houses are now administered by the National Trust, and no sight is more aesthetically and intellectually numbing, unless it is a corridor of Knellers. [7]

Among his most famous paintings are a series of 10 portraits of ladies from the Royal court, known as the Windsor Beauties, formerly at Windsor Castle but now at Hampton Court Palace; a similar series for Althorp; a series of 12 of the admirals and captains who fought in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, known as the "Flagmen of Lowestoft", now mostly owned by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich; and his Susannah and the Elders at Burghley House.

His most famous non-portrait work is probably Nymphs by a Fountain in Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Lely played a significant role in introducing the mezzotint to Britain, as he realized its possibilities for publicising his portraits. He encouraged Dutch mezzotinters to come to Britain to copy his work, laying the foundations for the English mezzotint tradition.

Lely lived from about 1651 to 1680 at No. 10-11 Great Piazza, Covent Garden. He was knighted in 1679. [2] Lely died soon afterwards at his easel in Covent Garden, while painting a portrait of the Duchess of Somerset. Sir Peter was buried at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden.

Nymphs by a Fountain, an atypical mythological work Lely, Sir Peter - Nymphs by a Fountain - Google Art Project.jpg
Nymphs by a Fountain, an atypical mythological work


Susanna and the Elders, 1650-5. Suzanne et Vieillards (Lely).jpg
Susanna and the Elders, 1650–5.

In his lifetime, Lely was known as a skillful connoisseur of art. [2] His collection of Old Masters, including Veronese, Titian, Claude Lorrain and Rubens, and a fabulous collection of drawings, was broken up and sold after his death, raising the immense sum of £26,000. [8] Some items in it which had been acquired by Lely from the Commonwealth dispersal of Charles I's art collections, such as the Lely Venus, were re-acquired by the Royal Collection.

He was replaced as court portraitist jointly by John Riley and Sir Godfrey Kneller, also a German-born Dutchman, whose style drew from Lely's but reflected later Continental trends.

A horse was also named after him, finishing fourth in the 1996 Grand National.


Lely was first and foremost a portraitist. He painted both men and women, but with a greater inclination towards the latter, whose cleavage was often accentuated, sometimes to the point of having one breast fully exposed (such as in Margaret Hughes's earlier portrait, seen below).[ citation needed ]

The loss in 1929 of a "family portrait by Sir Peter Lely" was reported in the fire at Pit House, Farley Heath, Albury. [9]


  1. "Artist Info". Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  2. 1 2 3 "Sir Peter Lely, Dutch Painter". Encyclopædia Britannica . Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  3. Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain, 1530–1790, 1953, Penguin Books (now Yale History of Art series)
  4. Britannica 2018. Dethloff 2009
  5. Sainty, J.C.; Bucholz, R.O. (1997). Officials of the Royal Household, 1660–1837: Department of the Lord Chamberlain and associated offices. Office-holders in modern Britain. University of London, Institute of Historical Research. p. 51. ISBN   978-1-871348-40-8 . Retrieved 1 May 2019. In 1660 Lely was appointed 'Limner and Picture Drawer', being succeeded in 1681 by Riley as 'Painter and Picture Drawer'.
  6. Hamilton, Adrian (16 April 2012). "Carry on, your majesty: Charles II and his court ladies" . The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  7. Art History News, quoting his Evening Standard review of the 2012 Lely exhibition, "Small but perfectly formed"
  8. Cust 1893, p. 21.
  9. "Pit House" (PDF). Albury History Society – buildings – Pit House. Albury History Society. Retrieved 13 June 2022.

General references

Court offices
Preceded by Principal Painter in Ordinary to the King
Succeeded by

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baroque painting</span> European art from about 1590 to 1750

Baroque painting is the painting associated with the Baroque cultural movement. The movement is often identified with Absolutism, the Counter Reformation and Catholic Revival, but the existence of important Baroque art and architecture in non-absolutist and Protestant states throughout Western Europe underscores its widespread popularity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bartolomé Esteban Murillo</span> Spanish Baroque painter (1617–1682)

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was a Spanish Baroque painter. Although he is best known for his religious works, Murillo also produced a considerable number of paintings of contemporary women and children. These lively realistic portraits of flower girls, street urchins, and beggars constitute an extensive and appealing record of the everyday life of his times. He also painted two self-portraits, one in the Frick Collection portraying him in his 30s, and one in London's National Gallery portraying him about 20 years later. In 2017–18, the two museums held an exhibition of them.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anthony van Dyck</span> Flemish Baroque artist (1599–1641)

Sir Anthony van Dyck was a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England after success in the Spanish Netherlands and Italy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cornelius Johnson (artist)</span> English painter (1593–1661)

Cornelius Johnson or Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen was an English painter of portraits of Dutch or Flemish parentage. He was active in England, from at least 1618 to 1643, when he moved to Middelburg in the Netherlands to escape the English Civil War. Between 1646 and 1652 he lived in Amsterdam, before settling in Utrecht, where he died.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Beale</span> British artist (1633–1699)

Mary Beale (née Cradock) (1633–1699) was an English portrait painter. She was part of a small band of female professional artists working in London. Beale became the main financial provider for her family through her professional work – a career she maintained from 1670/71 to the 1690s. Beale was also a writer, whose prose Discourse on Friendship of 1666 presents a scholarly, uniquely female take on the subject. Her 1663 manuscript Observations, on the materials and techniques employed "in her painting of Apricots", though not printed, is the earliest known instructional text in English written by a female painter. Praised first as a "virtuous" practitioner in "Oyl Colours" by Sir William Sanderson in his 1658 book Graphice: Or The use of the Pen and Pensil; In the Excellent Art of PAINTING, Beale's work was later commended by court painter Sir Peter Lely and, soon after her death, by the author of "An Essay towards an English-School", his account of the most noteworthy artists of her generation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Plumbago drawing</span>

Plumbago drawings are graphite drawings from the 17th and 18th centuries. There was a group of artists whose work in plumbago is remarkable for their portraits drawn with finely pointed pieces of graphite and on vellum. These works were initially prepared as the basis of an engraving. Eventually they would be produced as works in their own right.

Sir Oliver Nicholas Millar was a British art historian. He was an expert on 17th-century British painting, and a leading authority on Anthony van Dyck in particular. He served in the Royal Household for 41 years from 1947, becoming Surveyor of The Queen's Pictures in 1972. He was the first Director of the Royal Collection from 1987. He served in both offices until his retirement in 1988.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paul van Somer I</span> English painter

Paul van Somer, also known as Paulus van Somer, was a Flemish artist who arrived in England from Antwerp during the reign of King James I of England and became one of the leading painters of the royal court. He painted a number of portraits both of James and his consort, Queen Anne of Denmark, and of nobles such as Ludovic Stuart, Duke of Lennox, Elizabeth Stanley, Countess of Huntingdon, and Lady Anne Clifford. He is sometimes designated as "Paul van Somer I" to distinguish him from the engraver of the same name who was active in England between 1670 and 1694.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Theodoor Boeyermans</span>

Theodoor Boeyermans, Theodor Boeyermans or Theodor Boeijermans was a Flemish painter active in Antwerp who painted Baroque history paintings and group portraits informed by the tradition of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Michael Wright</span> Portrait painter in the Baroque style (1617–1694)

John Michael Wright was an English painter, mainly of portraits in the Baroque style. Born and raised in London, Wright trained in Edinburgh under the Scots painter George Jamesone, and sometimes described himself as Scottish in documents. He acquired a considerable reputation as an artist and scholar during a long sojourn in Rome. There he was admitted to the Accademia di San Luca and was associated with some of the leading artists of his generation. He was engaged by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, the governor of the Spanish Netherlands, to acquire artworks in Oliver Cromwell's England in 1655.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Willem Wissing</span> Dutch painter

Willem Wissing, known in England as William Wissing, was a Dutch portrait artist who worked in England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Principal Painter in Ordinary</span> First Court painter in Great Britain

The title of Principal Painter in Ordinary to the King or Queen of England or, later, Great Britain, was awarded to a number of artists, nearly all mainly portraitists. It was different from the role of Serjeant Painter, and similar to the earlier role of "King's Painter". Other painters, for example Nicholas Hilliard had similar roles with different titles. "Principal Painter in Ordinary", first used for Sir Anthony Van Dyck, became settled as the usual title with John Riley in 1689.

<i>Isabella Brant</i> (drawing)

Isabella Brant, a portrait drawing, was executed in Antwerp around 1621, by Flemish artist and diplomat, Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). Brant (1591–1626) was Rubens' first wife and modelled for some of his portraits until her untimely death in 1626. The portrait is drawn in black and red chalk with white heightening on brown wash paper.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Geldorp</span>

George Geldorp, Georg Geldorp or Jorge Geldorp was a Flemish painter who was mainly active in England where he was known for his portraits and history paintings. He was also active as an art dealer and impresario.

<i>Flagmen of Lowestoft</i> Collection of paintings by Peter Lely

The Flagmen of Lowestoft are a collection of thirteen paintings by Sir Peter Lely, painted in the mid-1660s. They were originally part of the Royal Collections, though most were given to Greenwich Hospital in the nineteenth century, and are now in the National Maritime Museum in London. The paintings are of prominent naval officers, most of them of flag rank, who had fought at the Battle of Lowestoft in 1665. Lely at the time was Principal Painter to King Charles II.

<i>Charles I with M. de St Antoine</i> Painting by Anthony van Dyck

Charles I with M. de St Antoine is an oil painting on canvas by the Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, depicting Charles I on horseback, accompanied by his riding master, Pierre Antoine Bourdon, Seigneur de St Antoine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jan van der Vaart (painter)</span>

Jan van der Vaart or Jan van der Vaardt was a Dutch painter and draughtsman of portraits, landscapes and trompe-l'œil paintings and a mezzotint artist who was active in England for most of his career. He was also an art restorer and art collector.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Remigius van Leemput</span>

Remigius van Leemput, known in England simply as Remee, was a Flemish portrait painter, copyist, collector and art dealer mainly active in England. Together with another Flemish master painter from Antwerp, George Geldorp, he was the key collaborator of Anthony van Dyck during van Dyck's final stay in London.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Weesop</span>

John Weesop or Jan Weesop was a portrait painter presumed to be of Flemish descent who is now only known for his works produced in the 1640s in England. His English patrons were predominantly prominent members of the royalist aristocracy.

Delia Mary, Lady Millar C.V.O., was the wife of the British art historian and Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, Sir Oliver Nicholas Millar and an art historian in her own right. A specialist in the art of the Victorian era, she was appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in recognition of her services to the Royal Collection.