17TH CENTURY PORTRAIT OF A LADY IN A GREEN DRESS AND RED CLOAK - BY JOHN HAYLS (1600-1679)


A fine, rare and large scale 17th century portrait of a lady by John Hayls. The as yet unknown noble sitter perches upon a bank within an extensive landscape, as a river flows nearby. She is expensively dressed in the fashionable and high status, brightly coloured, silk clothing of the period. Her left hand rests upon her heart and her right hand is outstretched.

John Hayls (pronounced Hales) ranks as one of the most talented portrait painters in mid-seventeenth century Britain. In spite of this fact, it is surprising perhaps that so few details of his life have survived. Most notably, his portrait of the diarist Samuel Pepys (now in the National Portrait Gallery) has remained the most enduring image of this infamous and iconic figure from the Restoration period.

Like so many during this period, Hayls’s portraits draw heavily on of the works of the prolific Sir Anthony Van Dyck, whose death in 1641 provided large shoes for a new generation of painters to step into. This portrait of an unknown lady is no exception to the rule. The dramatic pose, drapery and setting shows a great indebtedness to the tone set by Van Dyck around fourty years or so before this work was created.

Although unsigned, the case for the attribution to Hayls is most evident in the painterly style executed onto the canvas. The combination of both thin and soft glazes, most evident in the face, contrasted with the bravura in the drapery, is typical of the artist’s work. Hayls’s Titian-esque treatment of red drapery, which employs deep red glazes over confident white lead impasto, is entirely characteristic of his approach in this regard. A written recipe in the notebook of Richard Symonds, compiled mostly between 1651-2, attests to the fact that Hayls might have enjoyed experimenting with various pigments and binding mediums.

So too is the landscape to the right of the sitter, whose glowing setting sunset is highly reminiscent of other works by the painter. The inclusion of this setting provides the picture with a contemporary exoticism, which seems to evoke a Californian sunset rather than a British one.

Portraits such as these bring to mind the increasing competition between painters during the reign of Charles II. Artists such as the Dutch-born Sir Peter Lely, who also excelled whilst working in this three-quarter length format, presented a significant challenge to English painters like Hayls. It may be remarked that the pose of this unknown sitter, with her hand on heart as if enlisting our sympathy for her heartfelt condition, is used by Lely countless times. It is recorded that Hayls missed out on at least one important commission for the Justices of the Guildhall, an honour which was eventually awarded to fellow British artist John Michael Wright.

Attempts to identify the sitter have proven fruitless. Although this aristocratic lady bears a passing resemblance to a few portraits by the miniaturist Samuel Cooper, the most compelling being that of Mary, 1st Duchess of Bolton, no direct match has presented itself. It is often possible to compare miniatures by Cooper to paintings of Hayls, as both artists were distantly related, and seem to have copied each others work on a few occasions (Francis, 3rd Baron Brooke being one such example).

The painter’s untimely end came in 1679, where it was recorded that ‘comeing from the necessary house, he dropt down dead in the Garden. being drest in a velvet suit to go to a Ld Mayors feast.’

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Canvas : 40" x 50" / 101cm x 127cm. Frame: 51" x 48” / cm x cm. Internal Ref: 00045

Price: £14950