Of Dutch origin, Sir Peter Lely studied in Haarlem, where he became a master of the Guild of Saint Luke in 1637. He first arrived in London in 1641, shortly before England plunged into the turmoil of civil war. Although his earliest English works were religious or mythological scenes, he later established himself as the country’s pre-eminent portraitist and successor to Sir Anthony van Dyck, serving both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. Later appointed Charles II’s Principal Painter in Ordinary, Lely’s fashionable style perfectly captured the spirit of the Restoration, and the new Stuart court.
This elegant portrait of Miss Ada Gossett encapsulates the appeal of Lely’s work to his aristocratic patrons, and his ability to skilfully communicate both the personality and status of his subject. A sense of intimacy is portrayed through his subject’s half-turned pose, suggesting an engagement with the viewer but also an element of distance and modesty, while the lustrous sheen of pearls against brocade testify to her wealth. Miss Gossett’s pose and dress echoes that of Mary of Modena in a portrait painted by Lely shortly before her marriage to James II in 1673 (now in Kenwood House, London), and are also found in his portrait of Katherine Windham at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. The pastoral background to each painting imbues it with an Arcadian serenity, and suggests the prosperity of a realm now at peace.
We are grateful to Catherine MacLeod and Diana Dethloff, National Portrait Gallery, London, for their authentication of this portrait as the work of Sir Peter Lely.
Sjuberg Collection Sale, Bukowski, Stockholm, 1927 , lot 88