Sir Peter Lely
A bacchanale with nymphs, a satyr and putti, c. mid-1640s
Anon. sale; Hôtel des ventes de Mayenne, 7 Dec. 1997, no lot number (illus. on back cover).
Private Collection, UK, acquired circa 1998; thence by descent.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Lely’s work by Catharine MacLeod and Diana Dethloff, currently in preparation (as circa mid-1640s, based on first-hand inspection).
Although Sir Peter Lely is best known for his bravura portraits of Restoration court sitters, it was his subject paintings that initially impressed his English patrons following his arrival from the Netherlands around 1643. These works, inspired by classical mythology, contemporary literature, or Biblical narratives were the subject of the exhibition Peter Lely: A Lyrical Vision at the Courtauld Gallery, London (2012-13). As Caroline Campbell observes in the exhibition catalogue, the English market for small Dutch landscapes with figures was established, and it was to this genre that Lely was initially attracted. Soon, however, he fell under the influence of Italian Renaissance art and the work of Sir Anthony Van Dyck; Lely, who went on to become a great collector in his own right, acquired Van Dyck’s Titianesque Cupid and Psyche (1639-40) at the sale of Charles I’s collection in 1649.
Lely’s previously unpublished painting A bacchanale with nymphs, a satyr and putti combines his Dutch training with an early appreciation of Italian Renaissance painting, and shares many commonalities with other youthful efforts from his first years in England. These include The Infant Bacchus (after 1643; Private Collection), with its cavorting, curly-haired putti in a Dutch-inspired wooded landscape; and the magnificent Nymphs by a fountain from the following decade (circa 1654; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London), in which the reclining nude with her back to the viewer has similarly dirty feet. Dethloff and MacLeod also point to the characteristic drapery, and the slight anatomical awkwardness we see in early Lely. They have compared the figure at far right, seen from the back, to an academic study from life.