Riley, John (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 48
Riley, John

by Lionel Henry Cust
Significant differences in fact in this biography when compared with the modern ODNB

RILEY or RYLEY, JOHN (1646–1691), portrait-painter, born in London in 1646, was 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 [q.v.] and Gerard Soest [q.v.], 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 Thomas Chiffinch [q.v.] sat to 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 to 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 his queen, and, on the accession of William and Mary, he was appointed court painter to their majesties. Riley was 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 his draperies and accessories by John Closterman [q.v.], 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 Jan. 1692–3, of his wife Jochebed. In the National Portrait Gallery there are portraits by Riley of James II, Edmund Waller the poet, Bishop Burnet, Lord Crewe, bishop of Durham, and William, lord Russell. Among his pupils was Jonathan Richardson (1665–1745) [q.v.], who married a niece of Riley, and, being himself the master of Hudson (who was in his turn the master of Sir Joshua Reynolds), transmitted a truly national strain in the art of portraiture. Portraits of Riley and his wife, drawn by Richardson, are in the print-room at the British Museum.

[Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting, ed. Wornum; De Piles's Lives of the Painters (Suppl.); Hallen's Registers of St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate.]

L. C.