circle of John Hayls, Portrait of a lady, traditionally called Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn (? 1651–1687)

Photo courtesy of Tom St Aubyn (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
Portrait of a lady, traditionally called Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn (? 1651–1687)
The Red Saloon
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 74.8 cm, Overall width: 60.9 cm
circle of John Hayls (? 1600-1679)
Catalogue Number


This portrait attributed to the circle of John Hayls (? 1600–1679) has traditionally been thought to represent Charles II’s mistress, Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn (? 1651–1687). However, the hair style and dress date to about 1660, when Gwyn would have still been a child. Furthermore, the sitter bears little resemblance to known likenesses of Gwyn by the painter Simon Verelst in the National Portrait Gallery (such as NPG L248 and NPG 2496). 

A contemporary of Sir Peter Lely, and related to the miniaturist Samuel Cooper, Hayls became a leading artist in London during the 1650s and 1660s. He is mentioned in Richard Symonds’s diary,1 and is listed among the ‘English Modern Masters’ in William Sanderson’s treatise on painting, Graphice, of 1658. Hayls did not sign his work and few pictures have been securely attributed to him. Samuel Pepys commissioned portraits of himself and his wife from Hayls (NPG 211) and a lost portrait, known through prints (NPG D5507), and mentioned the artist thirteen times in his Diary between 1666 and 1668, noting that he was an inferior painter to his chief rival, Lely.

RN3 exhibits features common to portraits of women attributed to Hayls: a half-length format with the torso turned marginally away from a full-frontal pose with a turn of the head and a slight smile. More specifically, the plump cheeks, slight double chin and pronounced lower lip are reminiscent of both the unidentified female sitters in Hayls’s Portrait of a Lady with a Boy, with Pan (Tate, T06993), and a portrait of the Honourable Anne Coventry attributed to Hayls on loan to the National Trust collection at Lyme Park, Cheshire (NT 499975). The rendering of the taut fabric round the sitter’s bodice, the abundant ruched material of the sleeves and the expanse of sensuous décolletage is also comparable to these portraits.

by Emily Burns


Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, ed. Rev. Edmund Farrer, vol. 2, Norwich : Jarrold and Sons, 1928, vol. 2, p. 234, no. 55 (‘LADY’)


  1. British Museum, Egerton MS 1636, f. 15.


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