Collection of Colonial Governor Portraits by William Ludwell Sheppard (1833–1912)

State Art Collection
3 paintings. Oil on canvas. Dimensions: De La Warr – canvas 29 ¼ x 25 ½ in.; frame 36 x 32 in. Dunmore – canvas 29 ¼ x 25 ½ in; frame: 36 x 32 in. Effingham – canvas 30 x 24 7/8 in.; frame 39 ½ x 34 ½ in.

On June 2, 1877, the Daily Dispatch reported that “W.L. Sheppard, Esq., artist of this city, will sail from New York for Europe on the 12th, and will be absent in France one or two years.” It was not unusual for 19th-century American artists to take extended tours through Europe to study with masters or visit museums to refine their craft. However, Sheppard, a Richmonder perhaps best known for his Civil War sketches and depictions of postwar southern life, had an additional reason for his trip. The Commonwealth of Virginia had commissioned him to paint portraits of three of Virginia’s colonial governors: Thomas West, third baron De La Warr; Francis Howard, fifth baron Howard of Effingham; and John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore.

William Ludwell Sheppard (1833–1912) started as a clerk in a Richmond merchant firm, but quickly realized that his true interest and talent lay in art. While he was initially a self-taught painter, he went to New York in the 1850s to work and study. On his first trip to Europe, in 1860, he visited museums such as the Louvre and attended contemporary exhibitions. The Civil War intervened in his artistic education, but he put his skills to use sketching the scenes of his life as a soldier and working with the Topographical Department of the Army of Northern Virginia.

After the Civil War, Sheppard became known primarily as an illustrator, with his southern genre scenes appearing in many northern publications. By 1877 he had already done one painting for the Virginia State Library, a copy of an original portrait of Thomas Nelson Jr. As with the portraits of figures such as John Durbarrow Blair and Peter Francisco acquired in 1875, the Nelson painting came out of the commonwealth’s postwar desire to acquire artwork and relics related to Virginia’s long history. It was within this context that Sheppard received the commission for the paintings of De La Warr, Effingham, and Dunmore.

Lord De La Warr

Sheppard copied the portrait of Lord De La Warr from a 17th-century original then hanging at Buckhurst Park in Sussex in the possession of De La Warr’s descendants. That painting, dating to circa 1605, is oil on panel and shows a bearded De La Warr wearing a dark cloak or cape. In Sheppard’s copy, De La Warr has a white collar visible, although it is not present in the original. It is possible that the original was altered after Sheppard’s visit, or that he employed artistic license in his copy. Acquired by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation in 2000, the original portrait is now on display in the Jamestown Settlement galleries.

Lord Dunmore

The original portrait of Lord Dunmore by Sir Joshua Reynolds was still owned by the Murray family in the 1870s. Painted in 1765, it shows Lord Dunmore in the Highland dress of the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards. Unlike the bust portraits of De La Warr and Effingham, the portrait of Dunmore is full-length. In order to match those other portraits (and, presumably, fit a reasonable canvas size), Sheppard chose to replicate only the bust portion of Reynold’s painting. The original portrait is now at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Lord Effingham

At the time Sheppard copied the portrait of Lord Effingham, it was believed to be the work of Sir Godfrey Kneller, but is now only attributed to his school. It was most likely hanging at Tusmore Park, Oxfordshire, the seat of the earls of Effingham, as it was in the possession of the owner of that estate in 1929. Eventually, the painting was one of three family portraits given by the sixth earl to the Virginia Historical Society (now the Virginia Museum of History and Culture), where it is still part of the collections.

Sheppard completed all three portraits in 1877, and the Library noted in its purchase list for January 1878 a payment to “W. L. Sheppard” for “Colonial Governors (Portraits of) copied by him in Europe.” The portraits arrived in Richmond in February, when the Secretary of the Commonwealth received them and had them framed and displayed. Sheppard continued his European trip, studying art with Paul Soyer in Paris and revisiting the Louvre, where he made sketches of works on exhibit. After his return to Richmond, he continued to make occasional paintings for the State Art Collection, including another colonial governor copy, that of Thomas Culpeper, second baron Culpeper of Thoresway, in 1901.

Arrangement and access: All three portraits hang in storage at the Library of Virginia and may be viewed by appointment through Special Collections. They are digitized at Virginia Memory with the State Art Collection.

Provenance: Portraits commissioned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and paid for with Virginia State Library funds.

Grant, Marena Rollins. William Ludwell Sheppard: Artist-Illustrator. MA thesis. Virginia Commonwealth University, 1970.
“Local Matters.” The Daily Dispatch [Richmond, VA], 2 June 1877: 1. Virginia Chronicle. Web. 22 Oct. 2018.
“Local Matters.” The Daily Dispatch [Richmond, VA], 13 Feb. 1878: 1. Virginia Chronicle. Web. 22 Oct. 2018.
Virginia State Library, Purchase lists, 1872–1886. Accession 30214, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

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