In this ongoing series for Fine Art Today, we take a longer look at the history and features of a soon-to-be-available artwork of note. This week: Sir Peter Lely, “Self-Portrait.”
Although Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680) was born in the small German town of Westphalia to Dutch parents, the renowned artist would spend most of his career in England, completing a vast array of mythological works and dignified — sometimes royal — portraits.
Lely was a master of the Guild of Saint Luke in Haarlem in 1637; his early works display his penchant for mythological scenes with a distinct flair for Anthony van Dyck and the Dutch baroque. Arriving in London in 1640, Lely would eventually become the official portraitist for Charles I, his talent unmistakable even after the monarch’s execution.
A naturalized citizen of England in 1662, Lely led a prolific workshop and is considered one of the first English artists to leave an enormous mass of work. Among the most notable works by Lely are a series of about 10 portraits of ladies from the royal court, known as the “Windsor Beauties,” and a series of 12 portraits of the admirals and captains who fought in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, known as the “Flagmen of Lowestoft.”
Lely was known as a profound and talented portraitist, and the opportunity to own a personal work — his “Self-Portrait,” in fact — is one collectors should consider taking. Highlighting Sotheby’s July 5 and July 6 “Old Master and British Works on Paper” sale is Lely’s magnetic “Self-Portrait” drawing. Although it is executed with a dry rather than a wet medium, Lely has afforded his self-portrait the same attention, delicacy, and honor that can be seen in his royal portraits. Lely, shown in half-length while resting his arms on a ledge, gazes confidently out upon the viewer. Most attention has, naturally, been paid to his visage, while the rest of the drawing remains rather rough. Auction estimates for the exquisite drawing range from $874,000 to $1.1 million.
To view the full catalogue, visit Sotheby’s.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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