Duchess of Cleveland

May 20 2005


A portrait lost for almost a century of King Charles II's leading mistress with his son has been acquired for the nation by the National Portrait Gallery. Sir Peter Lely's Duchess of Cleveland which shows the artist's muse with her son Charles Fitzroy as Madonna and Child was one of the great discoveries of the Gallery's 2001 exhibition Painted Ladies: Women at the Court of Charles II exhibition. Thanks to a public appeal and financial support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the National Art Collections Fund (Art Fund), the Camelot Group plc, members of the Chelsea Arts Club and a number of individual donors, this striking portrait has been acquired for £147, 000 and will now become a key work within the Gallery's permanent Collection.

Considered one of the most audacious - and shocking - of Sir Peter Lely's portraits, the painting shows the King's mistress and son as figures of the deepest religious veneration. Barbara Villiers (1640-1709), Charles II's leading mistress in the first decade of his reign and mother of five of his children, set the standard for beauty in her day, but to his critics she represented all that was bad about the new regime. The painting can be seen as the ultimate representation of the values of Charles II's court.

Barbara Villiers was a household name in her day, and a symbol, both at that time and subsequently, of much that characterised the Restoration court as a whole. The subject of popular satire, she is also recorded in numerous colourful diary entries by Samuel Pepys and in the bawdy poetry of Lord Rochester. She acquired titles and great wealth, but also exerted considerable political influence through her access to the King. Her relationship with court painter Peter Lely operated to their mutual benefit, his many portraits of her publicising her beauty and status, and her prominence at court promoting his art.

The National Portrait Gallery is very grateful for the financial support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, the Camelot Group plc, the members of the Chelsea Arts Club, and the many individual donors and members of the general public who have given so generously towards the purchase of the portrait since the appeal was launched in late February this year.

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: "This is an intriguing, wonderful portrait. I am most grateful to all those who have made the acquisition by the National Portrait Gallery possible."

Stephen Johnson, Head of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, says: "Today's news is a great way to celebrate the National Heritage Memorial Fund's Silver Jubilee. This intriguing painting joins a growing treasure trove of heritage that has been saved for the nation as a poignant memorial to those who gave their lives for their country."

David Barrie, Director of the National Art Collections Fund says: "This seductive painting challenged the portrait conventions of the day, and perfectly encapsulates the liberal values of Charles II's court. We are very pleased to have helped fulfil the Gallery's desire permanently to embrace the ample charms of the Duchess."

Notes to Editors

Total Offer Price £147,000

National Heritage Memorial Fund £50,000
National Art Collections Fund (The Art Fund) £40,000
National Portrait Gallery, individual donations, support from the members of the Chelsea Arts Club and proceeds of a Public Appeal £57,000

Portrait of Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, with her son, c.1664
Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)
Oil on canvas
124.7cm x 102cm
National Portrait Gallery

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For further press information please contact: Neil Evans, Acting Press Officer, National Portrait Gallery, Tel 020 7312 2452 (not for publication) Email nevans@npg.org.uk

For further information about the National Heritage Memorial Fund please contact:
Sam Goody, NHMF Press Office 020 7591 6033 Email: samanthaG@hlf.org.uk (www.nhmf.org.uk)

For further information about the National Art Collections Fund (Art Fund) please contact:
Tanera Bryden Press Officer 0207 225 4822 Email: TBryden@artfund.org


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