Kneller was born Gottfried Kniller in Lübeck, Germany. His father Zachary Kniller was a painter and the Chief Surveyor of the city of Lübeck. In about 1662 he read mathematics at Leyden University before turning to painting, studying under Ferdinand Bol and probably Rembrandt. He was in Rome and Venice from 1672 to 1675, probably painting portraits of the Venetian nobility, before settling in England in 1676. There he ran a successful studio producing replicas and copies. After being introduced to the Duke of Monmouth, he received sittings from the king and was launched as a court artist, establishing a reputation as a portrait painter in the grand manner.
In 1684-5 Kneller was in France, painting Louis XIV for Charles II. A court painter to James II and George I, he was appointed principal painter to William and Mary in 1688. He was knighted in 1692, and in 1695 received, in the presence of the king, an honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Oxford. In 1700 he was created a Knight of the Holy Roman Empire by the Emperor Leopold I. He married Susanna Grave, a widow, in 1704; the couple were childless. In 1711 he became Governor of the first London Academy, and was re-elected annually until 1718. George I granted Kneller a baronetcy in 1715. At the time of his death in London, about five hundred works remained unfinished in his studio.
J.D. Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller, exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London 1971
J. Douglas Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller and the English Baroque Portrait, Oxford 1983
Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1st Baronet (born Gottfried Kniller; 8 August 1646 – 19 October 1723) was the leading portrait painter in England during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and was court painter to English and British monarchs from Charles II to George I. His major works include The Chinese Convert (1687; Royal Collection, London); a series of four portraits of Isaac Newton painted at various junctures of the latter's life; a series of ten reigning European monarchs, including King Louis XIV of France; over 40 "Kit-cat portraits" of members of the Kit-Cat Club; and ten "beauties" of the court of William III, to match a similar series of ten beauties of the court of Charles II painted by his predecessor as court painter, Sir Peter Lely.