Monthly Seminar on Collecting and Display:
Conversing a Great Deal with Pictures: William Byrd II and his Portrait Collection, by Ingrid Steiner, California State University
When: Monday 24 April 2017, at 6pm
Where: Institute of Historical Research, Malet Street, London WC 1E 7HU
In July 1736, William Byrd II (1674-1741) wrote to his friend, Anglo-Irish Politician, John Percival (1683- 1748): “…I had the honor of your lordship’s commands of the 9th of September and since that time have had the pleasure of conversing a great deal with your picture.” Virginia Planter, Statesman, and Historian, William Byrd II established powerful, strong, and enduring relationships on both sides of the Atlantic. His secret diaries have served as a primary source for understanding colonial Virginia life, his explorations enhanced our knowledge of Virginia and North Carolina, and his belief in culture and education led to the formation of a large private library and portrait collection. Byrd II’s portrait collection was unique in colonial Virginia. It not only was comprised of his family members, but portraits of his friends, colleagues and notable personages from his London and Virginia life. Recognizing that a literal ocean existed between Virginia and London, Byrd employed portraits as “physical representatives” of his relationships. Byrd’s portrait collection was more than just mere likenesses. His collection represented a formal social bond and testified to a personal relationship between the owner and the sitter. These portraits were both a public and private display of his affection, ambitions and memory. Examining Byrd’s own diaries, letters and scholarly materials, this talk considers the collection Byrd surrounded himself with at Westover. It pays particular attention to his collecting motives and display of the portraits. Upon analysis, the portraits become a window into an important transatlantic collection during the Virginia colonial era, which laid the foundation for other early American collections.
Ingrid Steiner is an Art History Lecturer at California State University and Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Games and Animation. Her research interests focus on Colonial American Virginia Portraiture and the migration of British Baroque Portraiture into the colonies, particularly the collection of William Byrd II. She holds a MA in Humanities and a MS in Education and has spoken both domestically and internationally on William Byrd II and art history pedagogy.