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Lely, Sir Peter

LELY, SIR PETER (1617-1680) English painter, was born at Soest, Westphalia, in 1617. His father, a military captain and a native of Holland, was originally called van der Vaes; the nickname of Le Lys or Lely, by which he was generally known, was adopted by his son as a surname. After studying for two years under Peter de Grebber, an artist of some note at Haarlem, Lely, induced by the patronage of Charles I. for the fine arts, removed to England in 1641. There he at first painted historical subjects and landscape; he soon became so eminent in his profession as to be employed by Charles to paint his portrait shortly after the death of Vandyck. He afterwards portrayed Cromwell. At the Restoration his genius and agreeable manners won the favour of Charles II., who made him his statepainter, and afterwards knighted him. He formed a famous collection, the best of his time, containing drawings, prints and paintings by the best masters; it sold by auction for no less than 26,000. His great example, however, was Vandyck, whom, in some of his most successful pieces, he almost rivals. Lely's paintings are carefully finished, warm and clear in colouring, and animated in design. The graceful posture of the heads, the delicate rounding of the hands, and the broad folds of the draperies are admired in many of his portraits. The eyes of the ladies are drowsy with languid sentiment, and allegory of a commonplace sort is too freely introduced. His most famous work is a collection of portraits of the ladies of the court of Charles II., known as " the Beauties," formerly at Windsor Castle, and now preserved at Hampton Court Palace. Of his few historical pictures, the best is " Susannah and the Elders," at Burleigh House. His " Jupiter and Europa," in the duke of Devonshire's collection, is also worthy of note. Lely was nearly as famous for crayon work as for oil-painting. Towards the close of his life he often retired to an estate which he had bought at Kew. He died of apoplexy in the Piazza, Covent Garden, London, and was buried in Covent Garden church, where a monument was afterwards erected to his memory. Pepys characterized Lely as " a mighty proud man and full of state." The painter married an English lady of family, and left a son and daughter, who died young. His only disciples were J. Greenhill and J. Buckshorn; he did not, however, allow them to obtain an insight into his special modes of work. (W. M. R.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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