17th Century Portrait Two Children Singing After Sir Peter Lely


Two other versions of this intimate painting are known to exist, one in the Royal Cornwall Museum and another which was once in the private collection of Philip Mould.

Though perhaps an idealised invention of the artist, the painting could portray the two younger sons of Charles I. Prince Henry of Oatlands and James II were both staying in Syon House, with Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland after the 1st English Civil War. Northumberland, who had been a patron of the late Van Dyck, was quick to recognise the potential of Peter Lely, who had arrived in London in 1641. In England, Lely gained many of his early commissions through the Earl. He painted ‘The Three Younger Children of Charles I’ in 1647 and a portrait of ‘Henry, Duke of Gloucester’ in the same year. ‘Two Children Singing’ is traditionally dated to the same time, and comprises one of the higher points in Peter Lely’s early work.

Prince Henry died in 1660. It is telling that at his death, Charles II “was never in his whole life seen so much troubled.” For it had hardly been a straightforward life; his earlier years were spent in the field, on a doomed, though sometimes glorious march around the kingdom he was set to inherit. His father was beheaded in 1649. An attempt to continue the conflict beyond its natural end, ended in the defeat at Worcester and the beginning of the English Republic. During the exclusion crisis, Prince Henry came to symbolise the lost hope of the Stuart line; an appealing compromise between his catholic brother James II and the illegitimate Duke of Monmouth.

The portrait is held in a period ebonised frame.


With Gooden & Fox, London
Christie’s London 20th November 1953
With Grundy Art Gallery
Christie’s London 2nd August 1974 (As attributed to Peter Lely)
Probably Acquired by the 6th Earl of Fortescue (1893-1977)
Castle Filleigh Estate
Hence by descent

Size of Canvas: 43 x 43cm (17 x 17”)
Size of Frame: 58 x 58cm (22¾ x 22¾”)
Weight: 2.7kg