Peter Lely, the son of a military officer stationed abroad, was born at Soest in Westphalia in 1618. He studied art in Haarlem before moving to London in 1641.
Lely established himself as one of the country's most important portrait painters. Influenced by the work of Anthony Van Dyck and William Dobson, Lely painted portraits of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell and other leading political figures. On the Restoration the new king, Charles II, appointed Lely as his Principal Painter.
Sir Peter Lely died in 1680.