Mary Nelson Berkeley (Mrs. Edmund Berkeley, ca. 1713-1772)

Artist: Robert Feke
Date: 1749-1751

Mary Nelson Berkeley was the daughter of “Scotch Tom” Nelson, prominent merchant of Yorktown, and sister of William Nelson. She married Edmund Berkeley of Barn Elms in 1728. This portrait was very likely commissioned along with those of William and Elizabeth Nelson’s portraits, which are both attributed to Robert Feke as well. Its unusual square shape strongly indicates that the canvas was specially cut and intended for a very specific spot. It is believed to have originally hung in the Nelson House at Yorktown although the portrait descended in the Berkeley family. It is unclear if the portrait was painted in Yorktown or if the Nelsons were painted on a trip to Philadelphia. The Nelsons are the only three Virginia portraits attributed to Feke and were likely painted ca. 1750.

Dimensions: 37 x 35 1/2 in. (93.98 x 90.17 cm.)

The subject sits in a landscape and holds a flower in her lap with her right hand. Her dress matches her sister-in-law’s in style. Her dress has pearl and jeweled clasps on her sleeves and at her breast.

See: Carolyn J. Weekley, Painters and Paintings in the Early American South (2013), 247-249; MESDA Database, S-6707

Location: Yorktown
Decade: 1740s1750s
Credits: Private collection, MESDA Object Database, record S-6707, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), Winston-Salem, NC.