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Portrait of Nathaniel Walthoe (ca. 1709-1770)

ca. 1750
Origin: America or England
Unframed: 29 3/4 x 24 7/8in. (75.6 x 63.2cm) and Framed: 36 x 31in.
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1956-562,A&B
A half-length portrait of a man set within a simulated (tromp l'oeil) architectural porthole. He has dark blue eyes and brown hair. He wears a red waistcoat trimmed in gold braid, a brown coat, white neck cloth, and black cocked hat. His hands are not shown. He turns slightly towards the viewer's left, his head turned towards the viewer.

The 3 1/4-inch black-painted, bolection molded frame was acquired from the same dealer as the portrait (the Williamses, see "Vendor"), but it was accessioned separately (as acc. no. 1956-568), was not on the painting at the time of the sale, and was only put on the painting later, at CWF. It is thought to be a period replacement.
Label:In 1870, William Ritchie of Brandon plantation sent historian Hugh Blair Grigsby a copy of a descriptive list of the pictures hanging at Brandon, the list having been compiled at an unknown, earlier date by Dr. James Mease (1771-1846) of Philadelphia. Mease's compilation must have been made after the time of Richard Byrd's 1815 death --- when many paintings formerly displayed at Westover were moved to Brandon --- and, obviously, before Mease's 1846 death. The list (Mease's "Brandon Gallery") includes the following among "The Old Pictures at Lower Brandon, Va.": "Mr. Waltham [sic] of Williamsburg. A bust, with his hat on. Left a diamond ring to the Second Col. Byrd, upon condition that he would permit his portrait to hang up in the same room with those of the noblemen, with his hat on."

Although some details of this interesting tradition have not yet been verified, a diamond purportedly once owned by Walthoe (reset several times since the eighteenth century) was still in the hands of a Byrd family descendant in 1940 [Mrs. Louis Fagan to CWF, 27 September 1940]. Also, CWF's acc. no. 1956-562, long identified as Walthoe, suits Mease's description in being bust-length and showing a man in the unusual (for a colonial portrait) state of wearing his hat. Further, Walthoe's will, proved in England 13 June 1772, leaves the deceased man's "lost diamond ring to William Byrd Esq."

Other wording of Mease's description seems to imply a private joke between Walthoe and Byrd concerning the democratic inclinations of Virginians (or American colonists in general) vs. the less fluid class structure of the men's British contemporaries.

Nathaniel Walthoe, the son of John Walthoe of St. Dunstan's, London, matriculated at Oxford University in 1725/1726 at age sixteen. He also studied law at the Temple. He traveled to Virginia before 1744, when he was made clerk of the colony's Privy Council, continuing in that office until his death on August 23, 1770. His obituary stated that "He was a Gentleman well versed in polite literature, and possessed many amiable qualifications. It has been remarked of him, that he never uttered a disrespectful word of any one whatsoever."

Walthoe left his estate to relations back in England: his sister, Henrietta Marmillard, and two nieces, Mary and Martha Hart. Walthoe became a close friend of William Byrd II, whose picture gallery at Westover plantation was unusual and impressive by mid-18th-century colonial standards. A Byrd descendant claimed that William Byrd II hung Walthoe's portrait "over the door [at Westover, saying] 'the company was too good for him, so he was taking his leave'" [Mrs. Louis Fagan to CWF, 27 September 1940].
Provenance:Given by the subject to William Byrd II (1674-1744) of Westover; to his son, William Byrd III (1728-1777); to his wife, Mary Willing Byrd (1740-1814); along with nine other portraits, willed to her son Charles Willing Byrd. However, Charles Willing Byrd and his brother William Powl Byrd are not thought (Meschutt, p. 39) to have taken possession of the portraits they inherited from their mother; instead, upon their brother Richard Willing Byrd's death in 1815, this portrait, among others, is thought to have been transferred to the possession of their sister, Mrs. Benjamin Harrison)(Evelyn Taylor Byrd)(1766-1817) of Brandon plantation. Thence:

From Mrs. Benjamin Harrison (Evelyn Taylor Byrd)(1766-1817) to her son, George Evelyn Harrison (1797-1839); to his son, George Evelyn Harrison, Jr. (1837-1880); willed jointly to his granddaughters, Mrs. Louis E. Fagan (Evelyn Byrd Harrison)(1891-1972) and Mrs. Frederick C. McCormack (Virginia Ritchie Harrison)(1897-1973). [N. B. Virginia Ritchie Harrison married three times; in chronological order, her husbands were Frederick Clarke McCormack, Desmond Roberts, and William Roy Conley]. From 1925 until acquired by Colonial Williamsburg, the painting was owned solely by Mrs. Conley; it was sold on her behalf by Thomas and Constance Williams, CWF's vendor.