British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Height: 282.000 mm
Width: 197.000 mm
Prints and Drawings
Sir Peter Lely, Portrait of a Girl, a chalk drawing
England, AD late 1650s
Born in Holland, Peter Lely (1618-80) arrived in England to seek work around 1641-43. Although he first painted landscapes, he gradually concentrated more on portraits. At the Restoration of Charles II (1660-85), Lely was appointed official court painter to the King, as van Dyck had been to his father. With a large studio and assistants, he painted many members of the royal circle, notably a series of sumptuous, sensual portraits of the women at court. He collected paintings, prints and some 10,000 drawings. Many of these drawings, including The Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Paolo Veronese, are now in The British Museum. This was the first such collection to be built up by a painter in England.
This is one of a number of highly finished and signed portrait drawings by Lely. He drew them as independent works of art, rather than as studies for paintings. At his death, an inventory of his belongings records that these 'Craions' were hung in black ebony frames, like paintings.
This portrait is drawn in black and red chalks, heightened with white. The girl may be Elizabeth Seymour, later Countess of Ailesbury, whose portrait Lely also painted and which is now in Longleat House, Wiltshire. He has modelled the girl's features with characteristic delicacy: colour is gently applied in the red of her lips and pink of her flesh. the suggestion of a landscape background is sketched in black chalk in the background.
J. Rowlands, Master drawings and watercolou (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)
L. Stainton and C. White, Drawing in England from Hillia (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)