Picture of the Day: Sir William Temple

Sir William Temple

This beautiful painting is at the National Portrait Gallery in London, labelled after Sir Peter Lely, and based on a work of circa 1660. A lot of ‘after’ works are very obviously  not in the same league as the original, but I think this really evokes Sir Peter, and the painter was in my (admittedly inexpert) opinion, an accomplished and talented painter in their own right.  Are there any Lely fans in the readership who know more about it, or have any idea where the original might be? No date is given, so it could be this version is not even 17th century, although I’d hazard a guess it is.

Sir William Temple (1628-1629), was born in London, the son of Irish lawyer, courtier and politician, Sir John Temple, and was himself employed as a diplomat, travelling around Europe on behalf of the crown, one of his achievements being the successful negotiation of marriage between the Prince of Orange and Princess Mary. Although he was much respected and consulted by Charles II on matters of state, Temple disapproved of the crown’s anti-Dutch course, and retired from court.

He died in 1699 and was much mourned, with Swift lamenting that “all that was good and amiable in mankind departed with him”.

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  1. I have long liked this painting, even from only knowing it in black and white – it illustrates the entry on Sir William in the editon I have of the Britannica. Whoever did it was certainly a fine artist. It’s a pity their name is unknown; I wonder what other work they did? I particularly like the way they’ve caught the curls of hair. (Doesn’t hurt that Sir William is very handsome, of course, lol.)

    I’d be mildly surprised if it wasn’t seventeenth century, too – eighteenth and nineteenth century copies or derivatives (is it known if it’s a copy or a direct portrait by someone of Lely’s school?) always seem to be a bit clunky in comparison. That’s not the best word, but I can’t quite think of how to describe the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Clunky is the right word! Perhaps it’s to do with the type of training they had, and that later emulators just didn’t learn the same techniques as c.17th century artists? You can copy a picture hundreds of years after, but if you’re not taught the same way as the first painter, it’s unlikely to look like it’s close in time to the first, unless the artist is exceptionally observant. This one is so good and so ‘right’ in style and technique, at first I was actually surprised it WASN’T by Lely. I love the colouring too, all the muted browns (and possibly faded reds?).

    The NPG just says ‘after’, so nothing on a possible date, or whether the artist might have been close to Lely or an unrelated, later copyist. Surely it’s got to be a studio picture? I don’t think anyone without access to Lely’s own works and influence could make something this good.

    And yes, he is very handsome. 😉


  3. Yes! It’s the techniques, and who but wannabe forgers go to the effort of learning a particular artist’s technique?


  4. The more I look at it and research the image, the more I want to controversially question the NPG’s attribution. There are lots of references to this picture as by Lely, probably by Lely, attributed to Lely, after Lely, etc, going back a few hundred years. But if this is only after Lely, I haven’t yet found any confirmed sighting of the original one. The NPG would surely know more that could clear it up, but given the quality I’d start to bet this isn’t a copy at all, and is the actual Lely original. I wonder when their attribution was made, who by, and on what grounds? ANd it’s just struck me, is it unfinished?


    • Do the NPG answer questions about this sort of history and attribution, or are they more inclined to say (ever so politely) “Go away and stop annoying us”? It would be fascinating to find out more about this.



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