Attributed to Sir Peter Lely (Soest 1618 - 1680 London), Portrait of a Lady, said to be Lady Anne Hyde, Duchess of York (1637-1671)
oil on canvas, in a 17th century Italian frame. 18 1/2 by 14 1/2 in.; 47 by 30.8 cm. Estimate 40,000—60,000 USD
CATALOGUE NOTE: This beautiful and intimate portrait study has recently been the subject of much scholarly debate, the focus of which surrounds whether this spontaneous and vivacious oil sketch painted by the most confident of hands might indeed be by Sir Peter Lely himself or by his studio.
Understanding of Lely's practice as a portrait painter owes much to the work of Sir Oliver Millar.1 As he described, Lely often initially sketched the posture of his sitter in chalk on paper, and this initial design was shown to the sitter for approval and was subsequently lightly drawn upon the canvas. As a prolific draughtsman, Lely made "more preparatory studies in the course of his practice than any other professional portrait painted in London between Van Dyck and Allan Ramsay." Following this initial sketch, oil sketches of the primary features such as the face and hands were then also often produced by Lely, closely following the similar practice undertaken earlier by Rubens and Van Dyck. Finally, the portrait would then be completed by his studio assistants. Lely "himself worked very hard, painting, according to tradition, from 9 until 4, but could not conceivably [have] cope[d] with the demand for the large quantities of copies of new portraits, especially of the Royal family and of the more spectacular ladies. This demand could only be met by putting the assistants on to painting everything but the head, after the design had been laid out for them."2
In the present portrait, the face has been drawn and modelled with considerable subtlety, the hair has been suggested and a string of pearls merely indicated. The color of the background is rapidly sketched in dark brown which is also used to clarify. As in Lely's oil sketch of the Portrait of James II when Duke of York (National Portrait Gallery, London) this portrait shows the canvas as it would have appeared after the initial sitting had been completed. It might also be suggested that as with the Portrait of James II, this portrait has clearly been cut from a large canvas on which only the head had been painted. Both portraits are rare surviving examples which serve to illustrate what might have confronted the diarist Samuel Pepys when he visited Lely's studio on the 18th April 1666 and noticed, "heads, some finished and all begun..."3 The extensive list of portraits which still remained in Lely's studio at his death are discussed by Diana Dettloff in her article "The Executor's account book and the dispersal of Sir Peter Lely's Collection," in Journal of the History of Collections, 1996, pp. 15-51. For example, the present portrait may be a cut down version of the Late Duchess of York half-length purchased by a Mr. Geltson.4 It seems unlikely that a portrait sketch painted purely by an assistant and not touched by the hand of the studio master Lely himself would have been kept or sold and survived until today.
Physical similarity between sitters in Lely's portraits is not conclusive evidence of the precise identity of a sitter. However, close comparison between securely identified portraits of his female sitters does suggest that there are individual and personal features which are specific and distinctive to each sitter. It is quite striking how similar the physiognomy of this sitter - the nose, the lips and chin as well as the size of her upper torso - are to known and conclusively identified portraits of the young Lady Anne Hyde, later Duchess of York. The facial type closely resembles that in the full-length of the Duchess seated holding a tress of hair in her right hand at Hampton Court, c. 1662 (see O. Millar, The Tudor, Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures, London 1963, p. 121 no. 242). Again similarities can be found not only in the physiognomy but also with the delicate tendrils and curls which fall distinctively in the same manner over the sitters forehead in her portrait dated circa 1660 (Scottish National Portrait Gallery).
Anne was the eldest daughter of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674) by his second wife, Frances, daughter of Sir Thomas Aylesbury, Bt. (d. 1668). She accompanied her family to Antwerp during the Commonwealth, and in 1654 she was appointed Maid of Honour to the Princess of Orange, Amalia van Solms (1602-1675). It is during this time that she may also have met the young artist Lely. She is believed to be portrayed aged only seventeen in The Music Lesson (also called Anne Hyde and her Music Master, Private Collection). Again obvious facial similarities are evident, and the ages of the sitter between this portrait and the The Music Lesson correspond. It might therefore be suggested that if this sitter is Anne Hyde, then this sketch dates from between 1654 and 1660.5 An intimate portrait such as this may very well have been painted by a young artist keen to establish his relationship within the Royal Court in exile, with a sitter such as Anne, a young lady of the court keen to advertise her beauty.
By the time of the Restoration in 1660, Lely was already established as the best portrait painter "in large" in England, and Anne Hyde was to become one of his most important patrons. In the same year Anne and her new husband the Duke of York sat to Lely (Scottish National Portrait Gallery as mentioned above). The Duke and Duchess then sat to Lely on a number of further occasions throughout their lives. Anne was also to commission arguably Lely's most magnificent female portraits depicting women of the Royal Court, known today as The Windsor Beauties (The Royal Collection, Hampton Court).
1. See Oliver Millar, Sir Peter Lely 1618-1680, exhibition catalogue National Portrait Gallery, London 1978.
2. O. Millar, op.cit, 1978, p. 17.
3. As quoted in O. Millar, op.cit., 1978, p. 61.
4. There are various other portraits which may be the portraits in question, for example, listed under purchases by Mr. Gibson and others is 'A head dead coloured outline' (Appendix I, p. 28), listed under puchases of Mr. Sayer, 'A Woman's Head ¼' (Appendix I, p. 31), and portraits of the late Duchess of York purchased by M Price (Appendix I, p. 35). See Diana Dettloff, 'The Executor's account book the dispersal of Sir Peter Lely's Collection,' Journal of the History of Collections, 1996, pp. 15-51.
5. Lely is known to have travelled to Holland in 1656 in the company of Hugh May that summer. See Public Record Office, State Papers, Domestic, 25/77, 150, order 29 May 1656 for a pass for Holland to be granted to 'Peter Lely and his Servt Hugh May,' as quoted in O. Millar, op.cit, 1978, p. 14, ff. 22. It might be suggested that May's role as Royalist agent under the Commonwealth was responsible for Lely's initial introduction to the court in exile at this time.
Sotheby's. Important Old Master Paintings, Including European Works of Art. 29 Jan 09. New York www.sothebys.com photo courtesy Sotheby's