William Nelson was the son of Thomas Nelson and Margaret Reade Nelson. He married Elizabeth Burwell of Fairfield Plantation. He was the father of Thomas Nelson and Hugh Nelson. This portrait, the portrait of the subject’s wife Elizabeth, and a portrait of William’s sister, Mary Nelson Berkeley, are attributed to the artist Robert Feke because Elizabeth Burwell Nelson named Feke as the artist of William Nelson’s portrait in her will. There are no other portraits firmly attributed to Feke in Virginia. It is unclear if they were painted in Philadelphia, where Feke was working in ca. 1750, or if they were painted in Yorktown where the Nelsons lived.
Reference: “I give also to my said son Robert the small miniature picture of his father now in the possession of his sister Judith Nelson unless his brother Hugh chusis to give him for it the picture of his father drawn by Feake,” the Will of Elizabeth Nelson, 1793.
Dimensions: 50 11/16 x 40 11/16 in. (128.7 x 103.3 cm.)
The subject stands outdoors in a landscape. He wears a gray wig, a brown jacket, and a white or silver waistcoat. A hat is tucked under his left arm. His left hand is tucked into his waistcoat. His right arm rests on a stone plinth. He is turned three-quarters to his left.