Sir Peter Lely 1618–1680
Two Ladies of the Lake Family
Oil on canvas
1270 x 1810 mm
Inscribed ‘PL’ in monogram, centre left
Purchased with assistance from the National Art Collections Fund 1955
…; probably 1st Duke of Chandos by 1725 (‘Sr. Lanc. Lake of Cannon’s Lady, and Lady Essex Check’) and apparently sold Cock, 6–8 May 1747 (112, as Lady Drax, and Mrs. Francklin playing on a Guitar); …; Sir John Hugh Smyth, Ashton Court, near Bristol, died 1849 (as A portrait of the Ladies Lake); Sir John Henry Greville Smyth, 1885 (as Portrait of Lady Lake and Mary Lake Lady Chandos, seated in a landscape); Hon. Mrs Esmé Smyth by whom sold to Messrs Duits, 1930; Leggatt Bros; private collection; Leggatt Bros, from whom purchased by Tate.
Masterpieces of British Art from the Tate Gallery, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Kobe 1998, no.7; Van Dyck and Britain, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009, no.106.
W.J. Robinson, West Country Manors, Bristol 1930, pp.12–13; R.B. Beckett, Lely, London 1951, p.38, no.76A; NACF Report for 1955, 1956; Tate Gallery Report 1955–56, London 1956; Valerie Cumming, A Visual History of Costume in the Seventeenth Century, London 1984, pp.92–3; Oliver Millar and Diana Dethloff, ‘Sir Peter Lely’, in Jane Shoaf Turner (ed.), The Dictionary of Art, vol.19, London and New York 1996, pp.119–25; Masterpieces of British Art from the Tate Gallery, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo 1998, pp.62, 215; Richard Humphreys, Tate Britain Companion to British Art, London 2001, pp.45–6; Van Dyck and Britain, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009, pp.194–5.
Two richly dressed ladies are shown as though seated in a garden. The lady on the right wears a bronze satin dress and is somewhat older than her companion. The lady on the left in rich blue satin plays a guitar, an instrument that had just become fashionable at the English court. Lely has painted it in such detail that it can tentatively be identified as having been made in Paris in around 1660 by the Voboam family. Her left hand appears to hold down a chord which her right hand is positioned to strum. Strummed chords were an important element of seventeenth-century guitar music, as distinct from lute music in which the strings were mainly plucked.
From the women’s hairstyles, and from Lely’s handling of the paint, this portrait can be dated to around 1660. In the tradition of seventeenth-century double portraits, it is likely that the two ladies were either related or close friends. It is probable that Lely’s concept of double ‘friendship portraits’ derived from the British works of Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), particularly his Dorothy Savage and her Sister Elizabeth, Lady Thimbleby (?) c.1635, a work that Lely himself owned. Indeed one of van Dyck’s innovations was the seated double portrait in which the sitters were either related to one another or were close friends or, occasionally, professionally linked. Lely frequently adopted this van Dyckian format, as in the present work.
Following his training in Haarlem, Lely moved early in the 1640s to England. In London, Lely had the opportunity to see works by van Dyck, who had recently died. The market for art in Britain at this period was almost entirely for portraits, and Lely increasingly concentrated on that field, absorbing the ideas of van Dyck and adapting his compositions, while lightening and brightening his own palette. Van Dyck’s influence can also be seen here in the seated three-quarter-length composition, with a curtain behind the right-hand sitter and a landscape background to the left.
The sitters cannot be firmly identified, although a reference in a 1725 inventory of the property of James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos (1673–1744) – to a portrait of ‘Sr. Lanc. Lake of Cannon’s Lady, and Lady Essex Check’ – may be to this work. But as Frances Cheke (died 1678) was already the wife of Sir Lancelot Lake (died 1680) by 1638, she would have been too old to be the lady on the left. Moreover, her mother Essex Rich, wife of Sir Thomas Cheke, had died in August 1658. Sir Lancelot and his wife had a daughter, Essex Lake (born 1638) who was to become Lady Drax: she could be one of the ladies portrayed here. Sir Lancelot’s estate of Canons in Middlesex had been taken on in 1713 by the Duke of Chandos, who had married a member of the Lake family in 1696, and could have acquired the present picture with the house. The portrait seems later to have been sold in 1747, with other Chandos property, as ‘Lady Drax, and Mrs. Francklin playing on a Guitar’; another portrait by Lely of a ‘Mrs Francklyn’ was in the same sale (present location unknown).
Both the painting and its late seventeenth-century carved and silvered frame were conserved at Tate.