Sir Henry Capel (1638–1696), Sir Peter Lely (Pieter van der Faes) (British, Soest 1618–1680 London), Oil on canvas

Sir Henry Capel (1638–1696)

Sir Peter Lely (Pieter van der Faes) (British, Soest 1618–1680 London)
Oil on canvas
49 3/4 x 40 1/2 in. (126.4 x 102.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Jacob Ruppert, 1939
Accession Number:
Not on view
The second son of Baron Capel of Hadham, Henry Capel was the younger brother of Arthur (1632–1693), first Earl of Essex, and of Mary and Elizabeth, depicted in another portrait by Lely in the Museum (39.65.3). He married Dorothy Bennett, daughter and co-heir of Richard Bennett of Kew, Surrey, in 1659. Their marriage was childless. Capel served for more than twenty years as member of Parliament for Tewkesbury and in 1692 was created Baron Capel of Tewkesbury. He was briefly first lord of the admiralty, a lord of the treasury, and both a lord justice and the lord deputy of Ireland.

This picture was installed in the library of Cassiobury Park along with other family portraits, eight by Lely, remaining in place until 1922, when the house and its contents were sold. In addition to the portrait of Henry's sisters, the Museum owns a third work from the Cassiobury Park library: George Capel, Viscount Malden, and Lady Elizabeth Capel by Reynolds (48.181).

Sometime between 1922 and 1939, the bust on which the sitter's hand rests was painted over (see Additional Images, fig. 1). The bust reappeared when the painting was cleaned at the Museum in 1947. N. J. Barker (1965) suggested that the sitter’s gesture indicates the plighting of troth, and that the picture may have been painted on the occasion of Capel's marriage in 1659.

Comparison with a miniature of 1655 by John Hoskins (National Portrait Gallery, London), apparently several years earlier in date, suggests that Lely exaggerated the sitter’s more attractive qualities. Another Lely portrait (without a description) representing Henry Capel was in the artist’s own estate sale of April 18, 1682 (Burlington Magazine 1943). A painting that must have been similar to the present work showed Sir Henry “in brown dress with slashed sleeves, resting his right hand upon a pedestal, upon which is a marble bust” (sale, Christie's, London, November 25, 1911, no. 55, 48 x 39 1/2 in.). The Duke of Northumberland owns a smaller oval depicting the same sitter in a head-and-shoulders view, three-quarters to the left, inscribed with his name (letter of 1967 in departmental files).

[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Inscription: Signed (on base of column): PL [monogram]
the sitter's brother, Arthur Capel, 1st Earl of Essex, Cassiobury Park, Watford, Hertfordshire (until d. 1693); the Earls of Essex, Cassiobury Park (1693–1916); Algernon George de Vere Capell, 8th Earl of Essex, Cassiobury Park (1916–22; his sale, Knight, Frank & Rutley, Cassiobury Park, June 15, 1922, no. 707, as "Sir Henry Capell, second son of Arthur, Lord Capell . . . left hand on a marble bust"); [Scott & Fowles, New York, until 1925; sold to Ruppert]; Colonel Jacob Ruppert, New York and Garrison, N.Y. (1925–d. 1939)
New York. University Club. October 13, 1948–March 20, 1949.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion," May 3–September 4, 2006, unnumbered cat. (p. 148).

George Vertue. Notebook entry. 1731 [published in "Vertue Note Books Volume IV" in Walpole Society 24 (1935–36), p. 17], mentions a portrait of "a gentleman standing, his hand on a bust," which he saw on a visit to Cassiobury in 1731—apparently this picture.

Hermann Warner Williams Jr. "The Bequest of Jacob Ruppert." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 34 (July 1939), p. 166, ill. on cover, observes that it does not match the description of no. 707 in the Cassiobury sale, in which the sitter's left hand is placed on a marble bust.

"Sir Peter Lely's Collection." Burlington Magazine 83 (August 1943), p. 188, lists this picture, or another representing Sir Henry Capel, in the painter's estate sale of April 18, 1682.

Ellis K. Waterhouse. Letter. February 21, 1947, suggests that the bust mentioned in the Cassiobury sale may be "lurking under some very modern repaint".

Ellis K. Waterhouse. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. March 31, 1947, observes that Lely only used these "gigantic busts" between about 1655 and 1660.

R. B. Beckett. Letter. April 21, 1948 [letter unlocated; transcript only], considers the Capel portraits "of course, very good".

R. B. Beckett. Letter. December 24, 1948 [letter unlocated; transcript only], dates it about 1660, possibly a little earlier; observes that there was a "half length" portrait of Sir Henry in Lely's sale, perhaps bought back by the family.

R. B. Beckett. Lely. London, 1951, pp. 14, 38, 70, no. 62, dates it about 1658; observes that the same bust is depicted in the portrait of the dwarf Richard Gibson (National Portrait Gallery, London).

N. J. Barker. Letter to James Parker. March 5, 1965, suggests that it may originally have been a marriage portrait; compares the iconography with Titian's "Allegory".

Oliver Millar. Letter to Mary Sprinson. July 31, 1978, recalls his notes on having seen it originally: "Very fine original".

Katharine Baetjer. "British Portraits in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Summer 1999), pp. 14, 20–21, ill. (color), mentions that it is still in its original frame; observes that when the picture was bequeathed to the Museum in 1939 the bust on which the sitter's hand rests was hidden under a recent repainting.

Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 19–21, no. 8, ill. (color), figs. 13 (installation photograph of the Great Library at Cassiobury Park), 17 (before cleaning).