JOHN RILEY (BRITISH 1646-1691)
PORTRAIT OF A LADY WITH PEARLS
Oil on canvas, oval
74cm x 63.5cm (29in x 25in) Estimate £ 6,000-8,000 + fees Note:
John Riley was an eminent portrait painter of courtly life in the 17th century. Second only to Sir Peter Lely and with a lone rival in Sir Godfrey Kneller, his quieter reputation in the annals of art history has been attributed to his modesty of character. This extended to characterise his work which has been described as possessing an "unassuming sincerity". Today, as modern viewers looking back on a past era, his accurate and unexaggerated rendering of his sitters brings us fascinatingly and pleasurably close to understanding his subjects as real individuals. His work, understated and quietly sophisticated, is also cited as typifying a distinctly English approach within the genre of portraiture.
In 1681 Charles II appointed him 'painter and picture drawer in ordinary', the highest accolade a portrait artist could attain. He is said to have produced a portrait of Charles, now believed lost, that prompted the response: 'Is this like me? Then, odd's fish, I'm an ugly fellow." Unfortunately then for Charles, Riley was considered a master of depicting the face, and, by extension, character.
The portrait offered here for sale is no exception. Though unidentified, we can glean much of our sitter through observation alone. Though her fine dress and fashionable adornment of strings of pearls obviously denote her as a high born, courtly lady, we can also potentially infer a gentle demeanour from the muted palette and the extraordinarily soft and delicate handling of her facial features and face framing curls. Riley makes much of her large, dark eyes which hold the viewer arrestingly in their gaze; the overall effect being that of a unostentatious but nonetheless striking young woman.