"By 1650 Lely had established the largest practice of any portrait painter in Britain. No doubt his triumphant success as a portraitist nipped his career as a painter of mythological scenes in the bud.

Despite Lely's confident handling of the individual nymphs, they are somewhat awkwardly placed in the composition, and were probably made from a series of separate studies. The head of the nymph on the left at the base of the fountain, for instance, was originally shown complete, but then changed presumably to better define her position in relation to the nymph at her left."


  • Title: Nymphs by a Fountain
  • Creator Lifespan: 1618 - 1680
  • Date: Early 1650s
  • Physical Dimensions: w1446 x h1285 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Notes: A drawing attributed to Rubens, but from Lely's collection and probably by him, was in the C. R. Rudolf collection, Lndon, sold in Amsterdam, 1977. It represents a reclining nude, reversed fromt he one on the right and with a different pose fo the artm: it is even closer to another Lely, Shepherd and Nymphs (private collection).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?]
  • Work Nationality: British
  • Support: Canvas
  • Provenance: Bt in Paris by Charles Fairfax Murray; Fairfax Murray Gift, 1911.
  • Further Information: "Lely always regretted the fact that he had so little opportunity to paint Arcadian scenes like this one. According to his poet friend, Richard Lovelace, England was an 'un-understanding land' where painting was concerned, with patrons only interested in adoring 'their own dull counterfeits', exuding to portraiture. This painting seems to show Lely working in the same tradition of history painting as Poussin's 'The Nurture of Jupiter' (DPG234). The nymphs have the hair-styles and the discarded clothes of the 1650s rather than of pre-history. Their bodies are not abstracted or idealised in the manner of antique sculpture. There is an element of contrivance within the composition and the five nymphs seem awkwardly combined. Two figures suggest a particular knowledge of Van Dyck and Titian; the sleeping left-hand figure (covered from the hip down in the blue drapery) recalls the figure of Psyche in Van Dyck's 'Cupid and Psyche', c. 1638 -39 (Royal Collection) which was owned by Lely during the Commonwealth, and the sleeping background nymph echoes the bottom-right-hand figure in Titian's Andrians (Pardo, Madrid). "
  • Artist: Sir Peter Lely
  • Acquisition Method: Fairfax Murray, Charles (Gift, 1911)

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