Accession number: 1972.19
This portrait of Henry Fitzhugh (1614–1664) was copied in oils by John Hesselius in 1751. Like the portrait of the Virginia dynasty founder William Fitzhugh, this painting of William's father, the last Fitzhugh ancestor to live his entire life in England, is apparently faithfully copied from a lost original; it bears none of the mannerisms of John Hesselius' own, developing style. The two copies were commissioned by William Fitzhugh's second son, Captain Henry Fitzhugh, who did not inherit the originals, or Captain Henry's son, Colonel Henry Fitzhugh, for the paintings hung in their home Bedford through most of the nineteenth century. They are of great importance because so few paintings survive from seventeenth-century Virginia. The original portrait from which this canvas was copied must have been painted in England and carried to the colony by the son, for the sitter never set foot in Virginia.
This image of the 1630s is far removed from the lavish style of painting and pretentious deportment seen in Anthony van Dyck's portraits of the same decade from the court of Charles I. It is influenced instead by Dutch middle-class portraiture, best known today from the imagery of Rembrandt. Though the palette may be somber and the sitter's clothes simple, this image is a spirited example of provincial English portraiture. Beneath discolored varnish and overpaint, the face is deftly rendered, that of a young man of good breeding, energy, and intelligence; an inscription on the rear of the canvas identifies him as then but twenty years of age. He seems to have been at least moderately successful as a merchant dealing in woolen goods in the family's ancestral town of Bedford. That he sat for a painter is evidence enough that he was local gentry.