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John Riley (painter)

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Title: John Riley (painter)  
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Subject: Charles II of England, Edmund Waller, Gilbert Burnet, Prince George of Denmark, Art of the United Kingdom, History of the British Army, 1689 in art, 1683 in art, 1685 in poetry
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John Riley (painter)

John Riley, or Ryley, (1646 – March 1691) was an English portrait painter. He painted portraits of Charles II and James II, and was court painter to William III and Mary II. One of his pupils was Jonathan Richardson.

Life and work

Riley was born in London, one of the sons of William Riley or Ryley, Lancaster herald and keeper of the records in the Tower of London, who was created Norroy king-at-arms under the Commonwealth, but reverted to his herald's office at the Restoration. Another son, Thomas Riley, was an actor.

Riley studied painting under Isaac Fuller and Gerard Soest, and from the latter learnt a forcible, straightforward style of portraiture which rendered his portraits noteworthy. Riley did not attain much eminence until the death of Sir Peter Lely, when courtier and royal official Thomas Chiffinch sat for him, and was so much pleased with his portrait that he showed it to the king. Charles II gave Riley some commissions, and eventually himself sat for him. During one sitting he is said to have remarked to Riley, "Is this like me? Then oddsfish I'm an ugly fellow". Riley also painted James II and Mary of Modena, and, on the accession of William III and Mary II, he was appointed court painter.

Riley was said to be a quiet, modest man, very diffident of his own art, but his portraits are truthful and lifelike. With more self-confidence he might have attained to the position of Lely or Kneller. He was assisted in painting his draperies and accessories by John Closterman, who finished several of Riley's pictures after his death.

Riley, who suffered very much from gout, died in March 1691, and was buried in the church of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate. The registers of this church contain various entries relating to his family, including the burial, on 11 January 1692–3, of his wife Jochebed.

Among Riley's pupils was Jonathan Richardson (1667–1745), who married a niece of Riley, and, being himself the master of Thomas (who was in his turn the master of Sir Joshua Reynolds), transmitted a truly national strain in the art of portraiture.



External links

  • John Riley online (ArtCyclopedia)
  • Portraits by John Riley (National Portrait Gallery, London)
  • The Independent - 25 Jan 2008)
  • Christie's)
  • Portrait of William Chiffinch (

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