Sir Peter Lely

John Maitland, 2nd Earl and 1st Duke of Lauderdale, 1616 - 1682. Statesman (About 1665)

About this artwork

One of Charles II's leading advisors, Lauderdale was Secretary of State for Scotland and virtually ruled the country on the king's behalf. His corrupt methods and imperious behaviour eventually led to his downfall and he retired to Tunbridge Wells. He was known as 'Red John' because of his colouring and a contemporary described how 'his tongue [was] too big for his mouth, which made him bedew all that he talked to'. Lely's portrait suggests something of the gross physicality of the man as well as his power and ruthlessness.

Sir Peter Lely

Sir Peter Lely

Lely was born in Soest, Germany, of Dutch parents. In 1637 he was registered as a pupil of Pieter de Grebber in his father's home town of Haarlem. He came to London in about 1643, and in 1647 painted the children of Charles I, in custody during the Civil War. By the end of the Commonwealth, he was the best-known portrait painter in England and, after the restoration of Charles II, he was appointed Principal Painter to the king in 1661. His society beauties are heavy-lidded and sensuous whilst his portraits of Admirals (National Maritime Museum) show a more serious side to his art. The output of his studio was huge, Lely relied heavily on assistants. He was knighted the year of his death.