William Byrd II (1674-1744)

Artist: Unknown
Date: 1678-1681

This subject was previously believed to be William Byrd I (ca. 1652-1704). New research dating the portrait to ca. 1680 has led to the identification of the subject as William Byrd II. He was painted around the time he was sent to England for school. It is associated iconographically and stylistically with portraits attributed to the circle/studio of John Closterman and/or Closterman’s studio partner, John Riley. William Byrd II was born at Falls Plantation (later Belvidere) and lived at Westover as an adult. He spent much of his life before 1726 in England. His first wife was Lucy Parke and his second wife was Maria Taylor of England. The subject was also painted as an adult three times, by the studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller, by an unknown artist, and by Hans Hysing.

This is likely one of the three portraits of William Byrd II mentioned in Mary Willing Byrd’s will. She left her sons Charles Willing Byrd, Richard Willing Byrd, and William Powell Byrd each a portrait of their “G. father.”

Dimensions: 48 1/4 x 40 1/2 in. (122.56 x 102.24 cm.)

The portraits represents a young boy standing outdoors in a wilderness landscape. He wears an antique Roman warrior costume, include a red cap and brown boots. His left hand is on his hip. His right hand holds an iron chain restraining a brown and white spaniel. The dog wears a collar with a shell and star design attached to an iron chain. He looks up at the boy. A long arrow with a feather attached lies on the ground under the dog and at the boy’s feet. The boy stands in front of a large rock formation. To his right is a view of cliffs over a waterfall and pine trees in a rocky landscape.

See: “The Will of Mrs. Mary Willing Byrd, of Westover, 1813, with a List of the Westover Portraits.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 6, no. 4 (April 1899): 345–58; Carolyn J. Weekley, Painters and Paintings in the Early American South (2013), 71; Encyclopedia Virginia; Encyclopedia Virginia (father) 

Family: Byrd
Decade: 1670s1680s
Credits: Image Courtesy of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Mrs. Edmund Randolph Cocke in memory of George Byrd Harrison, M. D., 56.30.