September 26, 2003
Colonial Williamsburg Acquires Dunmore Portraits Unusual Miniatures Depict Virginia's Last Royal Governor
Colonial Williamsburg has acquired two unusual miniature portraits of John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunmore, best known in this country as the last royal governor of the colony of Virginia.
In 1978, the foundation borrowed one of the miniatures, which was privately owned by a Dunmore descendant, for study and photography. At that time the piece was only the second Dunmore portrait ever recorded, the first being a full-length depiction executed in 1765 by Sir Joshua Reynolds and owned by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. Amazingly, Maryland-based antiques dealer Gary Young discovered a second Dunmore miniature and sent it to Colonial Williamsburg for inspection earlier this year. Examination revealed it to be almost identical in composition to the first with minimal differences in technique and a few subtle details.
Both miniatures are watercolor on ivory and are set in frames that bear an earl’s coronet and the single letter “D.” The vast array of accessories in addition to the subject’s exaggerated slump and scowl suggest some degree of stereotyping. Presumably, multiple images were made for different branches of the family.
The Dunmore descendant, who prefers to remain anonymous, agreed to place his miniature at Colonial Williamsburg in a part gift, part sale arrangement, donating a portion of the portrait’s value in memory of his grandfather, Henry Alexander Murray (1857-1934). John A. Hyman and Betty C. Leviner, important Colonial Williamsburg benefactors, agreed to underwrite the remaining cost of the miniature, provided that Colonial Williamsburg purchased the second portrait owned by Young.
In this fashion, Colonial Williamsburg has acquired not one but two images of one of the most ill fated men ever to set foot on Virginia soil.
Lord Dunmore was appointed by the English Crown to serve as royal governor of Virginia in spring 1772. He undertook a series of unpopular moves to quell the colonists’ revolutionary fervor that eventually led to his flight back to England. These moves included dissolving the legislature, removing gunpowder from the Williamsburg Magazine and proclaiming freedom for all slaves who opposed the American rebellion. Following his return to England, Lord Dunmore was elected to the House of Lords and later became governor of the Bahamas.
Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that operates the restored 18th-century capital of Virginia. Known worldwide as the nation’s largest living history museum, the foundation also is home to the DeWitt Wallace Collections and Conservation Building, the largest collections preservation complex south of Washington, D.C. This 70,000 square foot facility houses the majority of the foundation’s 60,000 art objects and antiques. Colonial Williamsburg is located 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information or reservations, call
toll-free (800) HISTORY or visit online at www.ColonialWilliamsburg.org.