Collections › MESDA Collection › Alexander Spotswood

Alexander Spotswood

Artist/Maker:
Bridges, Charles
Place Made:
Spotsylvania County Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
1736
Medium:
oil on canvas
Dimensions:
HOA: 55 1/8″
WOA: 45 1/2″
Accession Number:
5714.15
Description:
SITTER: Alexander Spotswood (1676-1740) was born in Tangier, Morocco, his parents being Catharine Mercer (ca. 1638-1709) and her second husband, Dr. Robert Spotswood, physician to the Earl of Middleton who then served as Governor General there.

Following his graduation from the Westminster School in London, Spotswood received a lieutenant’s commission in the Earl of Bath’s (10th) regiment. After ten years’ service (and by then a captain), he was appointed deputy quartermaster general by the Duke of Marlborough; subsequently, he served in all the Duke’s major battles and sieges. In 1704, at the Battle of Blenheim, the decisive engagement of the War of Spanish Succession, a bridge demolished by French artillery fire fell on him, wounding him. He was brevetted lieutenant colonel and, as the war wound down, was further rewarded with the posts of lieutenant-governor, commander-in-chief, and vice admiral of the colony of Virginia. (Full titular governors remained in England at the time.)

Spotswood accomplished much during his 1710-1722 administration in Virginia. In Williamsburg, its capital, he functioned as architect and chief contractor for the completion of the Governor’s Palace and the College of William and Mary (which was rebuilt following a 1705 fire) and for the construction of Bruton Parish Church and the Powder Magazine. More widely, Spotswood was known for regulating the tobacco trade, treating with the Iroquois, encouraging the immigration and settlement of German-speaking populations, crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains and exploring land to the west of the Piedmont, and establishing what was possibly the first successful iron processing operation in the colonies (the Tubal Works).

Spotswood was recalled from office in 1722 and, in 1724 in London, he married Anne Butler Brayne. However, he returned to Virginia by 1729, settling with his family at “Germanna,” his estate in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. He served as Deputy Postmaster General from 1730 to 1739. In the latter year, he was promoted to major general. In 1740, he died in Annapolis, Maryland, whence he had expected to sail to Cartagena to fight in Britain’s war with Spain.

ARTIST: Colonial Williamsburg’s portrait has long been considered the work of English immigrant Charles Bridges (1672-1747) based on style as well as documentary evidence. Bridges was recommended to Spotswood by William Byrd II, one of the wealthiest planters in the colony of Virginia. In a letter dated December 30, 1735, that was personally delivered to Spotswood by the artist, Byrd wrote: “The person who has the honour to wait upon you with this letter is a man of Good Family, but either by the frowns of Fortune or his own Mismanagement, is obliged to seek his Bread a little of the latest in a strange land. His name is Bridges, and his Profession is Painting, and if you have any Employment for him in that way he will be proud of obeying your commands. He has drawn my children, & several others in the neighbourhoud; and tho’ he have not the Masterly Hand of a Lilly [Lely], or a Kneller, yet had he lived so long ago as when places were given to the most Deserving, he might have pretended to be the Sergeant-Painter of Virginia.”

REFERENCES: Graham Hood, “Charles Bridges and William Dering: Two Virginia Painters” (Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1978)

DESCRIPTION: A three-quarter length portrait of a standing man turned a quarter towards the viewer’s right. His proper right hand rests on his hip, his proper left hand is extended in front of him and, in that hand, he grasps a partially scrolled parchment or piece of paper. The subject wears a full, powdered wig that falls onto his shoulders and is parted in the middle. He wears a dark red, collarless coat with gold-colored buttons and a waistcoat extensively decorated with gold embroidery, the pocket flap being completely covered with it. A sword hangs at his far side, the hilt visible below his far hand. In the right background, a fortified castle is shown.

Credit Line:
Loan courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation