John Hayls

John Hayls is perhaps best known for his portrait of Samuel Pepys, and although he was said to be a contemporary and rival of Peter Lely and Samuel Cooper in the 1650s and 60s, a number of paintings from the 1640s war years have been tentatively attributed to him. He is mentioned in Pepys’ diary and was active up to and through the Restoration, but I’ve not found anything about his activities or movements during the Civil War.

The scant information available to us says that he was born in 1600, painted a portrait of Samuel Pepys’ wife in 1665/6, and died suddenly in London in 1679.* I love a good mystery, especially one involving art, so I’m going to start researching Hayls and see what I can find.  I’ve come across a number of paintings merely attributed to Hayls, and very few that are certainly named as his, which complicates any attempt to study his technique and gain a clear recognition of his works, but I did discover this fascinating portrait of Charles Needham, 4th Viscount Kilmoray.


I found the image on an auction site, so sadly there’s no way of knowing where it is now.  I’d hazard a guess it was painted in the latter part of the 1640s, but that can only be a guess as there are too few confirmed works to give a timeline of his artistic development during this period. The more I look at this the more I like it. The pose is unusual, very different from the familiar front-facing stance with one hand on a sword hilt, and I’d like to get a better look at the blackness by his raised left hand. Could better light show more detail of the background, or does it just need a really good clean? There must be some information on it somewhere, particularly the provenance, so if any readers can help me fill in a little more detail I’d love to hear from you.






*Cust, Lionel Henry (1891). “Hayls, John”. In Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 25. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

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