Sir Peter Lely received his art education in Haarlem. In 1641, he moved to England, where he continued the work of van Dyck. Portrait painting in England, which progressed in the 18th century, in the 17th century was exclusively performed by foreign masters, who found a large clientele at the royal court.
The first known genre paintings by Lely were obviously influenced by Caravaggio and his followers in Utrecht. In the service of Lord Northumberland, he copied paintings by van Dyck. At the same time, he created a number of original paintings. Subsequently, after the restoration of the Stuarts, he worked as a court painter to King Charles II of England.
Dutch painter and collector Lely studied at the studio of Pieter de Grebber in Haarlem in 1637. In 1643, he arrived in England and began painting small landscapes and historical compositions. The style of his paintings of this time (A Girl with a Music Teacher, 1654, private collection) resemble the works by Metsu and Van Dyck. But soon he discovered the unprofitability of such paintings and devoted himself to the art of portraiture. His first patron was the Earl of Northumberland, who commissioned him the portrait of King Charles I and the Duke of York (1647, London, Sion House). Lely, without any political attachment, worked for both the royalists and parliamentarians. In 1654, they called him “England’s finest painter”. Upon becoming the “Principal Painter” during the Restoration, he received English citizenship in 1662. From that time on, he began to work in a new style that corresponded to the court taste; that was how many portraits of lazy and voluptuous ladies from high society appeared. The abundance of commissions required the organization of a large studio with numerous assistants. Lely created a series of portraits of court ladies (Windsor Beauties, London, Hampton Court Palace) and admirals (London, Greenwich, Maritime Museum), which were very close to Dutch painting style. A typical example of the artist’s late manner is the remarkable colour portrait of Lady Barbara Fitzroy (c. 1670, York, City Art Gal.). In his early works, Lely, like Van Dyck, sought to express the spirit and character of a model, whereas later he began to emphasize their artificial grace. The models assumed the conditional poses that eliminated any differences between them. Lely was the first English painter to have a large studio, and his portraits were imitated by other artists until the middle of the 18th century. Along with painting, Lely was also a collector of paintings and drawings; his collection is especially rich in the works by the Venetian artists Veronese, Bassano, Tintoretto, Paris Bordone, Guercino, Guido Reni. The collection that was sold after Lely’s death also included the works by Van Dyck, Claude Lorrain, Rubens and many Dutch and Flemish landscape painters.