This sumptuous portrait of Diana Russell, Lady Newport is a beautiful example of Lely’s work from the late 1650s with which he established his position as the pre-eminent portraitist of Charles II’s reign. The sitter’s languorous pose, her direct gaze and rich, silk dress display all the quintessential hallmarks of the artist’s style, which seems to have been deliberately pitched at attracting the attention of the ascendant Royalist faction in England.
Lady Newport was the fourth daughter of Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford (1593-1641). In April 1648 she married Francis Newport, later 1st Earl of Bradford (1612/20-1708), an active Royalist who had fought and been imprisoned during the Civil War. Her marriage brought her husband the large dowry of £7,000, which, according to Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674), was used to fund the Royalist cause. Newport flourished in the Restoration court, rising to the position of Treasurer of the Household in 1672, and created Viscount Newport of Bradford in 1675 and later Earl of Bradford in 1694. He formed a notable art collection that included works by van Dyck, Dobson and Poussin.
This portrait was commissioned by Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, in the late 1650s. Clarendon was a staunch supporter of the Royalist cause, had fought for the King during the Civil War and became a prominent political figure following Charles II’s restoration. Clarendon was also a key patron of Lely and, within a month of Charles II being restored to the throne, had commissioned from the artist two large scale portraits of his daughter, Ann Hyde, and son-in-law, Charles II’s brother, James Duke of York (both Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh). Lady Newport’s husband was a friend of the Earl of Clarendon who declared him ‘a young gentleman of great expectation and excellent parts’ (E. Hyde, A History of the Rebellion and Wars in England, Oxford, 1826, III, p. 257) and whom he helped arrange the purchase of a baronetcy for Newport’s father for £6,000. It is presumably through this connection that the portrait was commissioned. The portrait also exists as a copy by Nicholas Wray painted for Sir Robert Bankes, now at Kingston Lacy.
This picture and the following four lots formed part of Clarendon’s collection of portraits that decorated his celebrated picture gallery at Clarendon House, Piccadilly, built between 1664 and 1667 to designs by Roger Pratt. These portraits included notable figures from the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, but also of men and women he had known and written about in his famous History of the Great Rebellion and Life. After dining with Clarendon’s eldest son, Henry Hyde, Viscount Cornbury, John Evelyn wrote the following entry in his diary for 20th December 1668: ‘I dined with my Lord Cornbury at Clarendon House now bravely furnished, especially with the pictures of most of our ancient and modern wits, poets, philosophers, famous and learned Englishmen’ (J. Evelyn, The Diary of John Evelyn, II, W. Bray (ed.), New York and London, 1901, p. 45).