When Sir Peter Lely died in 1680, Roger North, his friend and one of his executors moved into Lely's Covent Garden house to sort out his affairs. Over a number of years North organised the contents of Lely's studio and his large and impressive collection, with the specific intention of organising a series of sales, which were thought to be the most effective way of clearing Lely's debts and honouring the bequests in his will. North's fastidious approach gave him an insight and expertise into understanding the artist and his methods.
It is possible that Lely ran an informal academy and so a number of the works left in the studio were either produced by artists close to Lely, or often the drawings had entered his personal collection for inspiration or pedagogic use. The stamp 'PL', carefully applied by North on each sheet in Lely's large collection of prints and drawings confirms that this present pastel was in Lely's possession at his death in 1680. North's intention when using the stamp was to apply it to Lely's collection, rather than autograph drawings.
Perhaps most interesting is the composition of this present pastel. It bears a clear resemblance to Lely's finished oil in the Euston collection of Barbara Villiers, 1st Duchess of Cleveland in masquerade costume. Barbara Villiers was one of the most significant figures at the court of King Charles II. She was mistress to the Stuart king, who acknowledged five of her six children as his own.
There are significant differences between the sketch and the oil portrait. The sketch shows the sitter seated with her hands in her lap, buttons down her tunic and straight hair on her forehead. The oil shows her standing, with tight curls, a large jewel at her breast and with one hand raised to hold back the veil. The differences point to the pastel being executed either in advance of the oil, or during its production. From this we can understand that the pastel is either by the hand of an artist working closely with Lely, or it was a drawing in Lely's collection that may have provided inspiration for the finished oil. Whatever its origins, it was of sufficient interest to Lely that it remained in his studio until his death.
We are grateful to Diana Dethloff for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.