(Born Soest, Westphalia, 14 September 1618; died London, 30 November 1680). Painter of Dutch origin who spent almost all his career in England and was naturalized in 1662. His family name was originally van der Faes, and the name Lely is said to have come from a lily carved on the house in The Hague where his father was born. Lely was born in Germany (where his father, a captain of infantry, was stationed) and trained in Haarlem. He moved to England in the early 1640s (early biographers say 1641 or 1643), and although he first painted figure compositions in landscapes (Sleeping Nymphs, c.1650, Dulwich Picture Gal., London), he soon turned to the more profitable field of portraiture. Fortune shone on him, for within a few years of his arrival the best portraitists in England disappeared from the scene: van Dyck and William Dobson died in 1641 and 1646 respectively, and Cornelius Johnson returned to Holland in 1643.
Van Dyck was the strongest influence on his style, but Lely was more earthy and less refined. Much of his work is repetitive (it is sometimes hard to tell sitters apart), but he was a fluent and lively colourist and had a gift for impressive composition. He completely dominated English painting in his time, and his tradition of society portraiture, developed by Kneller and Richardson, endured well into the 18th century until it was challenged by Hogarth. Lely was a notable connoisseur and amassed one of the finest collections of Old Master drawings ever assembled; it was sold after his death.
Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)