Henry Custis

Artist: Unknown
Date: probably 1640-1650

Henry Custis never came to Virginia. He was an Englishman who expatriated to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. His son immigrated to Virginia in ca. 1650. This portrait descended with the Parke, Custis, Washington, and Lee portraits gifted to Washington and Lee University. Custis family tradition confirms that this portrait, along with a pendant presumed to be the man’s wife, likely Johanna Wittingham Custis, has long been in the Custis family and was believed by the family to have come from “Holland.” Based on the family tradition, history, and style of portraits, it was likely painted in Rotterdam and brought to Virginia by the subject’s son, John Custis II (ca. 1629-1696). This may also be the portrait that John Custis IV, Henry Custis’s great grandson referred to in a letter. It is also possible that it represents another member of the Custis family.

While the portrait was very likely painted in Rotterdam, exactly where it hung in Virginia is unclear. John Custis II, who immigrated to Virginia in ca. 1650, established landholdings at Arlington in Northampton County. Arlington passed through several generations, although it was not always a primary residence. It is likely that the portrait hung at Arlington for a time and then its location is unknown before it was at (a different) Arlington House in the 19th-century.

Probable Reference: a family history of portraits states, “two, now at Arlington, painted by Van Dyke, tradition says, came from Holland,” in Benson J. Lossing, Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington (1860), 21.

Possible reference: “I recd by Cap Halladay my account Curt; wch is right, and my great grandfathers picture to satisfaction, and return you A thousand thanks for your Care in that affair.” John Custis IV to Micajah Perry, 1717, in Josephine Little Zuppan, ed., The Letterbook of John Custis IV of Williamsburg, 1717-1742 (2005), 38-39. The word “great” is crossed out in the original, so it is unclear if John Custis was referring to grandfather (John Custis II) or his great grandfather (Henry Custis).

Dimensions: 27 x 22 in. (68.28 x 55.88 cm.)

The subject wears a black suit with large white collar. He has a mustache and beard. He is angled slightly to his left. He appears inside a painted oval frame. In the top corners of the painted frame are skulls and bones. In the bottom corners are bones and hourglasses.

See: The Custis Family Migration (Colonial Williamsburg Archaeology)

Family: Custis
Decade: 1640s1650s
Credits: Courtesy of Washington and Lee University, University Collections of Art and History, U1918.1.9.