From the mid-eighteenth century, it was believed that this painting portrayed the poet Abraham Cowley (1618-67). Cowley was a prodigy whose poetry was first published when he was fifteen-years-old. Horace Walpole helped construct this identification while the painting was in his collection at Strawberry Hill, describing it as having an ‘impassioned glow of sentiment’ and ‘eyes swimming with youth and tenderness’. However, Cowley would have been around forty-years-old at the time this picture was painted, whereas the young shepherd cannot be much older than a teenager. Similarly, Mary Beale’s portrait of her son Bartholomew was also mistakenly thought to represent Cowley. Both misidentifications may have arisen because the poet had been a guest of the Beales in 1664.


  • Title: A Boy as a Shepherd
  • Creator Lifespan: 1618 - 1680
  • Date: c.1658-60
  • Physical Dimensions: w756 x h914 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • null: Paul Tucker has provided the following information from CFM's diaries:E.T. Cook to CFM, 5c Portman Mansions, W., 15 October 1913 (John Rylands University Library, English MSS 1281)[Thanks for notes on Lely's 'Cowley' & 'Nymphs'. DNB mentions Cowley as in Nat Gall. Writer presumed it was included in pics bt from Peel collection 1871. DNB requires correction in conection with another of his Dulwich gifts. Says Nathaniel Lee at Garrick Club only portrait ever painted. History of Dulwich one? Any conjecture as to painter?]An 18th-century engraving by Shelock and simon, as Cowley. An enamel copy by Zincke, mentioned in the Walpole sale catalogue, is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, signed and dated 1716. According to the 1926 Dulwich Catalogue there was then a copy or version with a blue mantle.Walpole's CollectionWalpole's art collection, recorded in his Description of 1774, was not marked by quality but rather by its usefulness as historical documentation. The largest and most coherent group was of prints of portraits; he was among the first collectors to organize these on the thematic principles proposed in Karl Heinrich von Heinecken's Idée génerale d'une collection complette d'estampes (1771). Walpole's collection of Greek and Roman coins and medals was also noteworthy but was principally acquired at one sale, that of Conyers Middleton in 1744. He also had a good collection of French porcelain. Walpole was embarrassingly erratic, however, in his judgment of contemporary art, particularly where it was clouded by friendship; one friend, nevertheless, was Joshua Reynolds, who executed two portraits (1757; Ragley Hall, Warwicks; Toronto, A.G.) of Walpole as well as two group portraits of friends and family (Bristol, Mus. & A.G.; Edinburgh, N.G.).One of Walpole's earliest publications, the Aedes Walpolianae, a detailed catalogue of the paintings collected by his father for Houghton Hall, Norfolk, completed in 1743 and issued four years later, is the earliest catalogue of a private collection by an English art historian. Walpole began publishing at his Strawberry Hill Press in 1757, with a reprinting of the Odes of his friend Thomas Gray; the illustrations by Richard Bentley for the earlier 1753 edition, commissioned by Walpole, are among the finest examples of the Rococo style in English fine art. Between 1762 and 1771 Walpole issued his four-volume Anecdotes of Painting in England, based on the ÔNote-books' of george Vertue, which he had acquired after Vertue's death in 1756, but amplified by his own research. These Anecdotes form a major component of early source material for the historiography of the arts in England, although they are strongly shaped by Walpole's own prejudices. The fourth volume included his History of the Modern Taste in Gardening, reissued separately in 1785. Though it is neither comprehensive nor exact, the fluency of style of this essay and its memorable phrasing have ensured its status as the most important account of the art in 18th-century England. His other writings included the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1765), a play, political memoirs, antiquarian studies and a mass of correspondence. The last forms an indispensable source for the social, political and artistic history of England in the 18th century. In 1791 Walpole succeeded as 4th Earl of Orford on the death of his nephew George Walpole, 3rd Earl; by then he was a celebrity and an object of curiosity, dividing his last years between his house in Berkeley Square, London, and Strawberry Hill. On its dispersal in 1842Ñin a sale (in situ) that lasted 32 daysÑhis collection raised the sum of £33,000.WRITINGSAedes Walpolianae, or a Description of the Collection of Pictures at Houghton Hall in Norfolk (Twickenham, 1748, dated 1747, 2/1752) Anecdotes of Painting in England, 4 vols (Twickenham, 1762Ð71); rev., ed. R. N. Wornum, 3 vols (London, 1876) Miscellaneous Antiquities (Twickenham, 1772) A Description of the Villa of Mr Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill (Twickenham, 1774, rev. 2/1784) The Works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford, 5 vols (London, 1798) W. S. Lewis, ed.: The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence, 48 vols (New Haven, 1937Ð83) BIBLIOGRAPHYR. W. Ketton-Cremer: Horace Walpole: A Biography (London, 1940, 2/1956) I. W. U. Chase: Horace Walpole: Gardenist (Princeton, 1943) W. S. Lewis: Horace Walpole (New York, 1960) W. H. Smith, ed.: Horace Walpole: Writer, Politician, Connoisseur (New Haven, 1967) P. Sabor: Horace Walpole: A Reference Guide (Boston, 1984) M. McCarthy: The Origins of the Gothic Revival (New Haven and London, 1987)
  • Work Nationality: British
  • Support: Canvas
  • Provenance: Hampton, Edward Lovibond (1724-1775), by c.1770 (seen by Horace Walpole and identified as Abraham Cowley); Lovibond sale, 27-28 May 1776. Bt Walpole for £63; Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole; his sale, Strawberry Hill, 6 May 1842, lot 21 (as Cowley). Bt Seguier for £105; Sir Robert Peel; London, Robinson and Fisher, Peel Heirlooms sale, 10 May 1900, lot 203 (as Cowley). Bt Agnew for £670; Charles Fairfax Murray; Fairfax Murray Gift, 1911.
  • Inscriptions: PL
  • Further Information: Although the sitter has not be identified, it is likely a portrait. The young man is shown as a shepherd, resting upon a hill with staff and recorder. Peter Lely was the foremost portrait painter of his time, and frequently captured the likenesses of the upper echelons of British society.
  • Artist: Lely, Sir Peter
  • Acquisition Method: Fairfax Murray, Charles (Gift, 1911)

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