I love Godfrey Kneller. Kneller was a German painter and an exceptionally good painter, in my opinion, and a worthy successor to Peter Lely as a painter to the nobility. Why?
His portraits of some of the most influential and important people of the Seventeenth century provide us with fascinating visuals of that beloved time.
He’s kinda cute.
Kneller was a popular painter for Late 17th/Early 17th century sovereigns from Charles II to George I.
Here is a portrait of William III, which hangs in The King’s Presence Chamber in William III’s State Apartments at Hampton Court Palace:
The sheer size of the image is quite breathtaking – not on the same level of knock-your-socks off like Rembrandt’s Night Watch, but it still manages to excite me.
Kneller’s use of colour in this painting is rather extraordinary. The heavenly blues are just perfect in this depiction of William as a sort of godly figure, a man whose very station in life is guided by angels from above.
Kneller is most well-known for his series of paintings known as the “Hampton Court Beauties” and the other called the “Kit-Cat portraits” of members of the exclusive Kit Cat Club (of which he was a member). Whenever I see a Kneller, which I’ve been fortunate to see often on my visits to the National Portrait Gallery, I’m always drawn to the lips of the subject – they’re just so incredibly sensuous. Take, for example, this painting he made of Sir John Vanbrugh (same bloke who designed Castle Howard & Blenheim Palace):
The Hampton Court Beauties, which were commissioned by beauty Queen Mary II (of William & Mary) were more demure portraits of her ladies-in-waiting.
These were to be quite different from the more overtly erotic paintings which were commissioned by her mother, Anne Hyde, by Peter Lely entitled “The Windsor Beauties” – paintings of the great beauties at the court of Charles II (which included the notorious Barbara Villiers, Countess Castlemaine!).
Kneller was also the painter who painted Sir Isaac Newton:
Kneller died on this day the 19th of October, 1723. He had had a very comfortable life, especially for an artist. His home, Whitton Hall, became Kneller Hall upon his death and is now home to the Royal Military School of Music. I passed by it by chance a little over a year ago and was stunned by how impressive it still is.
There is a beautiful monument made of marble in Westminster Abbey, dedicated to Kneller. If I’m not mistaken, this is the only one dedicated to a painter at the Abbey.
What do you think of Kneller’s work? Feel free to comment below!