It is difficult to date this portrait precisely but the informal pose and the obvious display of seemingly natural hair is reminiscent of Kneller’s self portrait of 1685. However this style can be seen on later portraits as well and therefore the date proposed is based on the overall manner of approach that Kneller has used. The liveliness of the handling of paint to create the form of the head and the underlying subtle flesh tones are hallmarks of his style. As too is the rendering of the copious hair which has been given form with confident dark strokes of paint over the brown ground a technique also apparent around the white scarf. The rest of the portrait, the blue cloak and cartouche background has been completed by studio assistants, a practice that was very common with busy, popular painters of the day.
Sir Godfrey Kneller was the greatest master of the English baroque portrait. As Court painter to four sovereigns, he dominated English art for more than thirty years. Born in Lübeck, Germany as Gottfried Kniller, he trained in Amsterdam, probably under Rembrandt’s pupil Ferdinand Bol. He visited Rome and Venice probably painting portraits of Venetian nobility before coming to England in about 1676, where he rapidly established himself as a leading portrait painter to court society, successfully competing with, and then succeeding, Peter Lely. His talent was greatly admired and officially recognized when appointed jointly with John Riley Principal Painter to William III and Queen Mary II in 1689. His knighthood three years later was followed in 1715 by a baronetcy from George I, the first to be conferred on a painter. As a member of the Kit-Kat Club pledged to support the Protestant succession to the throne, Kneller painted what is probably his finest work – a striking set of 40 portraits of club members, some of which are displayed at the National Portrait Gallery, London. In 1711 he founded the Academy of Painting in London for young artists and became its first governor.