167
167

PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION

Sir Peter Lely
PORTRAIT OF A MAN, POSSIBLY A SELF-PORTRAIT 
JUMP TO LOT
167

PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION

Sir Peter Lely
PORTRAIT OF A MAN, POSSIBLY A SELF-PORTRAIT 
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Old Masters Day Sale

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London

Sir Peter Lely
SOEST 1618 - 1680 LONDON
PORTRAIT OF A MAN, POSSIBLY A SELF-PORTRAIT 

Provenance

Sam Lord's Castle, Barbados 1950s–1994;
With Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1994;
From whom acquired by the present owner.

Exhibited

Williamsburg, Virginia, Muscarelle Museum of Art, on loan 2015–17 (as Portrait of a Man, possibly a Self-Portrait).

Catalogue Note

This sensitively handled, charming and enigmatic portrait dates to circa 1645–50, shortly after Lely first arrived in England. As first pointed out by Dr. Malcolm Rogers in the 1990s, in both the handling and the physiognomy of the sitter it closely relates to a series of pictures of musicians painted by Lely in the late 1640s that originally hung at Coombe Abbey in the Craven Collection.1 Clearly intended to have hung as a group, five of these pictures are securely recorded at Coombe in an inventory taken in the early eighteenth century, including a Boy playing a Jew’s Harp and a Man Playing a Pipe (both Tate Gallery, London), a Man Playing a Violin, a Girl Playing a Theorbo-Lute and a Man Playing an Eleven-course Lute (all Private Collection). All characterised by a darker, more typically Dutch palette that Lely would gradually lose during his early years in England, the Coombe pictures are marked for their unparalleled intimacy. Likely modelled on close acquaintances of the artist, the latter of the five has long been thought to represent the artist himself. A sixth picture of A Man playing the Violin (fig. 2), which is not recorded in the early eighteenth century inventory but is likely to have originally formed part of the group as well, is also believed to depict the artist and appears to be a pendant to the Man Playing an Eleven-course Lute.

The sitter in this portrait, with his rounded chin, neat moustache, thin lips, aquiline nose, large lidded brown eyes, high set eyebrows and flowing long brown hair, appears to be the same man as both the violin player and the lute player in the Coombe paintings. If we are to accept them as depicting Lely himself then we must accept this as an early self portrait of the artist. The same man appears again in a number of Lely’s early paintings, most famously The Concert (The Courtauld Gallery, London), where he can be seen seated, centre-left of the composition playing a bass viol (also called a viola da gamba), looking over his shoulder to the female singer behind him. We know that Lely loved music and his musicians are all convincingly depicted, holding and playing their instruments correctly. The sitter’s physiognomy also closely relates to that in the artist’s self-portrait in coloured chalks that remained in the hands of Lely’s descendants until it was sold in these Rooms, on 6 July 2016, lot 216 (fig. 1).

Sir Oliver Millar commented of this picture that it belonged to that 'unexpectedly attractive phase of his [Lely’s] career before, not after, he had committed himself to becoming a successful and fashionable portrait painter in London. The works from this period are invariably delightful'.2 Be that as it may, Lely did rise to the challenge presented by English patronage and, filling the void left by the untimely death of Sir Anthony van Dyck, established himself as the foremost portraitist at the Restoration Court of King Charles II. Whilst his finest late works are rightly celebrated for their superlative baroque virtuosity, these much rarer early works have what the late Director of the Tate, Sir Norman Reid, described as a 'sombre but gracious realism' that is unsurpassed by any British seventeenth century artist.3

1 Coombe Abbey inventory, 1739 (Craven MS, cited by O. Millar, Sir Peter Lely 1618–80, exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery, London 1978, p. 41).
2 Private correspondence with the present owner, circa June 1995.
3 Sir Norman Reid to Lord Crawford, letter of 3 October 1966: Tate Archive, TG 4/2/1369/1.

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