William Byrd II
William Byrd II appears to be gesturing with his right hand toward a distant scene in this three-quarter-length oil portrait made in London ca. 1700–1704. Born in Henrico County on March 28, 1674, Byrd was educated in England but returned to Virginia, where he became a successful planter and political figure. He is best known today as a diarist, writer, and bibliophile, and as the man who transformed Westover, the family plantation house on the James River in Charles City County, from a wooden structure into an elegant brick mansion that was completed in 1735 and remains one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the United States.
This painting was executed by Sir Godfrey Kneller, the most important portraitist in England in the the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, who served as official painter at the royal court. Byrd brought this canvas back to Virginia where it hung at Westover, and over the years, he assembled and exhibited more than thirty portraits of family members and friends in the manor house, an extraordinary display in that era and place. The twice-married Byrd died in 1744 and was buried in the garden at Westover.