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Discovery: Lost Lely of Lord Kensington

Wed Mar 2, 2016

By Lydia Miller

By 1660 Peter Lely had become one of the most sought-after portraitists working in England. Frantic sitters would be booked in at hourly intervals and Samuel Pepys wrote that Lely was so busy that he had to start making early morning appointments in order to keep up with increasing demand.[1]

R.B. Beckett’s 1951 catalogue raisonné on Lely’s work records a mere six hundred portraits by the artist, a small number when compared with his extensive production over a career spanning at least forty years. With an ever increasing generation gap between Lely and present day owners of his work, many unsigned portraits have become ‘sleepers’, emerging on the art market unattributed and depicting unknown sitters.

Several examples of these unattributed Lelys have been discovered by Philip Mould & Co. in recent years, including the 1640s sketch ‘Study of Two Children Singing’ which is considered to be one of Lely’s best early works.

A more recent example is this portrait initially catalogued as being by an unknown artist of an unidentified boy. The portrait, which shows a teenage boy with bright red hair, can be dated stylistically to the mid-1650s. Research by Philip Mould & Co. has also successfully established the sitter’s identity as Henry Rich, Lord Kensington who was also painted by Lely in a three-quarter length format which is in the collection at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. The Berkeley Castle portrait uses the same head-type as the present work and was probably produced simultaneously along with other variants for dispersal amongst friends and family.

Portrait of Henry Rich, Lord Kensington (1642-1659), c.1657

Although Henry Rich, Lord Kensington did not live long, dying of smallpox at the tender age of seventeen, he left a widow Christiana Ricard who went on to marry John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton, who descended from the Barons Berkeley of Berkeley Castle.[2]

Click here to read the full catalogue notes.

[1] S. Pepys, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 18th July 1666.

[2] J. Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies of England, (London, 1838), p.57.