Duchess of Cleveland Appeal
Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland with her son, probably Charles FitzRoy, as the Virgin and Child
by Sir Peter Lely
Help us secure a great portrait for the Nation
The National Portrait Gallery has the opportunity to purchase an outstanding portrait of the Duchess of Cleveland, one of the most significant figures at the court of King Charles II. The painting was one of the great discoveries in the Gallery's Painted Ladies: Women at the Court of Charles II exhibition in 2001, having been lost for almost a century. It is the work of Sir Peter Lely at his best, and represents a figure whom contemporaries identified as the artist's muse. A bold and striking image, depicting the Duchess with her son Charles Fitzroy, as Madonna and Child, the portrait would become a centrepiece of the Gallery's displays.
Barbara Villiers (1640-1709) was Charles II's leading mistress during the first decade of his reign, and the mother of five of his children. She set the standard for beauty in her day, but to the King's critics she represented all that was bad about the new regime. She acquired titles and great wealth, but also exerted considerable political influence through her access to the King. Her relationship with Peter Lely, the King's painter, operated to their mutual benefit, his many portraits of her publicising her beauty and status, and her prominence at court promoting his art. This most audacious, indeed shocking, of Lely's portraits - in which the King's mistress and son are depicted in the guise of figures of the deepest religious veneration - reflects the permissive atmosphere of the new court, reacting to the years of war and repression.
The portrait is on offer for £147,000, a favourable price for a painting of this quality and importance. The Gallery has raised £127,000 as at 22 April. The final page of an appeal is often the most difficult and a further £20,000 remains to be found by the extended deadline of 19 May.
The catalogue of the exhibition Painted Ladies: Women at the Court of Charles II provides much additional information on both the Duchess of Cleveland and Sir Peter Lely and can be purchased through our online shop.