Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)
The 1650s has rightly been regarded as Lely’s finest period, in which he shows development towards a more lyrical and personal conception of the Baroque portrait...
Until recently both the artist and subject of this striking portrait were unknown, however recent research by Philip Mould & Co. has identified the subject as Henry Rich, Lord Kensington and the artist as Sir Peter Lely, one of the most important society portrait painters working in England in the seventeenth century.
The identity of the subject, who is portrayed in his teenage years with rich golden hair, has been confirmed through comparison with a three-quarter-length portrait of Henry Rich by Sir Peter Lely at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. Both this portrait and the Berkeley Castle three-quarter-length work rely on the same head-type of Rich and it is possible that Lely produced this bust-length portrait simultaneously for dispersal amongst family. Lely also painted other members of the Rich family including Henry’s mother Elizabeth and Aunt Lady Diana Rich, daughter of Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland.
Henry Rich, Lord Kensington was the son of Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Holland (who succeeded his cousin to become the 5th Earl of Warwick) and his wife Lady Elizabeth Rich (née Ingram).
From 1649 Rich was styled Lord Kensington, a titled first given to his grandfather in 1623 following his marriage to Isabel Cope, daughter and heiress of Sir Walter Cope of Kensington.
Henry Rich lived his entire life in Kensington, he married Christiana, daughter of Sir Andrew Ricard, knight and alderman of London, on Valentine’s Day in 1659 and died the same year of smallpox at the tender age of seventeen. He was buried in St Mary Abbots Church, Kensington. Christiana Ricard went on to marry John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton.
Sir Peter Lely’s character and talent dominated the art world of the second half of the seventeenth century in England. Though Pepys famously described him as ‘a mighty proud man and full of state’, Lely’s skill for portraiture meant he assumed the mantle of Sir Anthony Van Dyck with ease. Despite sharing the stage with many accomplished painters, the particular brio of his technique and his considerable personal charm guaranteed him the most prestigious patronage. Everyone of consequence in his age sat to him, and it is in his portraits that we form our conception of the cautious solemnity of the Protectorate and the scandalous excesses of the years following the Restoration.
The 1650s has rightly been regarded as Lely’s finest period, in which he shows the fullest development from the small-scale works of the previous decade and Dutch burgher character of his larger compositions, towards a more lyrical and personal conception of the Baroque portrait.
 R.B. Beckett, Lely, (London, 1951), no.430, p.58.