The painting of Barbara Villiers in the Maidstone Museum collection set a new trend in portrait painting which survives to this day. As the ‘fashionista’ of her day, many ladies copied her style. Previously, paintings were very formal, with ladies in stiff poses and even stiffer dresses. Her portrait broke with this tradition and shows her in a softer pose in an informal dress. Her position as the mistress of Charles II was probably part of her appeal. In fact, several well-placed people had copies of this painting in their houses to show their approval in case the King came visiting.
This oil painting of Barbara Villiers is attributed as after Sir Peter Lely and dates from the 1600s. Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland was a mistress of Charles II. Also known as the Countess of Castlemain, Barbara bore several illegitimate children to Charles and she was documented by the diarist Samuel Pepys as a woman of exceptional beauty.
Barbara’s relationship with Charles II started soon after her marriage to Roger Palmer in 1659. Despite efforts by Barbara to remain close to Charles II, in 1674 she was replaced by Louise de Kéroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth. Barbara consoled herself with other lovers before remarrying in 1705 after the death of her husband. This marriage to the rake Robert ‘Beau’ Fielding was declared void in 1707.