This rare drawing shows the influence of Lely on Greenhill's pastel portraiture. Greenhill came from Salisbury to study in Lely's Covent Garden studio in about 1662, where he was considered the most talented of Lely's pupils. The painter Thomas Gibson considered Greenhill's pastel portraits 'equal to any Master whatever' and Buckeridge proclaimed him 'a great proficient in crayon draughts.' In this portrait, Greenhill follows Lely's practice in only working up the sitter's face in colours; this is therefore likely to be a work of the 1660s and feasibly from before 1667 by which time Greenhill had left Lely's studio. Greenhill's later work, such as the portrait of Sir Thomas Twisden in the British Museum shows the impact on his pastel drawing of the innovations in colour made by Edmund Ashfield and Edward Luttrell, as Greenhill began also to colour his sitters' hair and clothing. The sitter's identity in the present drawing has not been established definitively. The traditional identification was noted in 1978 as an ancestor of the portrait's earliest documented owner, Edward Burman Adams (1794-1833) who owned several farms in Suffolk. Perhaps she was the Lucy Sherman who was married at Billockby, Norfolk, in 1659.
Greenhill is known as a portraitist in oil and chalks but in an album of drawings at Dulwich College is a pen and ink study for his portrait of William Cartwright, the theatre manager, and a sheet at the British Museum may also be by the same hand. Greenhill's self-portrait in the British Museum has striking similarities with the present work in the modelling and posture of the head and the lightness of touch of the colouring. As well as Cartwright, the theatre manager Thomas Betterton owned several of Cartwright's pastels, as did the painter Antonio Verrio . Greenhill's attachment to the theatrical community was blamed for his drunkenness, which caused his early death from a fall in 1676. The obvious promise of his work, his young age at death and its manner established his posthumous reputation as the great squandered hope of English portraiture. As Buckeridge wrote, 'England might have boasted of a painter who, according to his beginnings, could not have been much inferior to the very best of foreigners.'
- Vertue, vol IV, p.86; Bainbrigg Buckeridge, The Art of Painting and the Lives of the Painters…, London, 1706, p.378.
- Notes and Queries, July 1893, 8th series IV, p.86.
- British Museum, museum no.Ff,4.49, currently attributed to Lely. The attribution to Greenhill of a further chalk drawing, museum no.1949,0411.27, is doubtful.
- Greenhill also experimented with prints. A 1667 etching of his brother Henry is both his only known print and the only etching by an English artist from the reign of Charles II. Antony Griffiths, The Print in Stuart England, London, 1988, pp.208-10.
- Pinacotheca Bettertonaeana, 24 August 1710; A catalogue of the pictures and household goods, late belonging to Signior Verrio, 24 June 1708.
- Bainbrigg Buckeridge, The Art of Painting and the Lives of the Painters…, London, 1706, p.379.