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Attributed to Francesco Salviati (1510-1563), Rearing horse. Red chalk, 232 x 144 mm.

In addition to achieving renown as a painter, Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680) amassed one of England’s first great collections of drawings. A display of a selection of drawings from Lely’s collection will be on view in The Courtauld Gallery concurrently with the exhibition Peter Lely: A Lyrical Vision.

Lely showed a particular preference for Italian drawings of the 16th century and the display includes works by, amongst others, Fra Bartolommeo, Parmigianino, Giulio Romano, and Domenico Campagnola. Such works as Polidoro da Caravaggio’s studies of armour may have provided ideas for potential compositions, poses and drapery in both his portraits and his narrative paintings whereas the dramatic red chalk Rearing horse, now attributed to Francesco Salviati, may have been enjoyed as a more highly finished example of Italian draughtsmanship. Also of interest is the enigmatic large Last Judgement, which is related to Michelangelo’s composition for the Sistine Chapel.

Lely seems to have considered his collection both as a means of self-education and an expression of his taste and discernment. Estimated to have numbered some 10,000 works, Lely’s collection of drawings and prints was dispersed in a series of auctions after his death. Each work was stamped with a distinctive PL mark by the artist’s executor and they can now be found in museum collections across Europe and North America.

A selection of Lely’s own drawings will be displayed alongside works from his collection. Primarily hand and drapery studies, these delicate sketches provide a glimpse into Lely’s practice as a portraitist. A special highlight is his Two heralds in ceremonial dress, a beautiful and highly detailed costume study of figures in a procession of the Order of the Garter.

Taken together, these drawings reveal a more private side of Lely, as worthy of exploration as his sparkling paintings.  

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Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680), Two heralds in ceremonial dress. Black and white chalk on blue paper, 518 x 363 mm© The Courtauld Gallery, London