Published: March 12, 2019
WILLIAMSBURG, VA. – The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has recently acquired its first portrait by the well-known, Eighteenth Century British landscape and portrait painter Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797). The sitter of the portrait is Captain Richard Bayly (d 1764), an Irishman who served with the 44th Regiment during the French and Indian War and who sat for this portrait circa 1760 after his return to Britain, in the uniform he wore in America.
“The faces of early America’s military officers are largely lost to time,” said Ghislain d’Humières, Colonial Williamsburg’s executive director and senior vice president, core operations. “At Colonial Williamsburg, we are proud to be able to include their likenesses within our paintings collections and humanize their stories for our visitors in an accessible, visual manner.”
Acquiring the Bayly portrait within months after the portrait of Major Patrick Campbell – a Scottish officer who served in the British lines at the Siege of Yorktown – came into the Colonial Williamsburg collection presented an exciting opportunity to the curators there. To be able to show the people behind the series of events that led to the Revolution and to better tell the story of the French and Indian War is compelling to further the Foundation’s mission of authentically telling America’s enduring history.
According to Erik Goldstein, senior curator of mechanical arts and numismatics, Bayly fought in the famed Braddock’s Defeat on July 9, 1755, outside of what is today Pittsburgh. His regiment suffered severely, with seven officers killed and nine wounded, but Bayly and George Washington were among the few unwounded Anglo-American officers who fought in the disastrous event. Bayly was promoted to captain of the 44th Regiment in July 1757 and served in America until late 1760. When he returned to the British Isles, he sat for this portrait by Joseph Wright of Derby.
The painting was owned by the subject’s sister and inscribed as such on the reverse of the stretcher: “B. Bayly Jan.r Picture of her/Brother Richard Bayly Oct.r 1764.”
While the subject matter and his American service initially attracted the attention of the Colonial Williamsburg curators, the added incentive to acquire the painting was that it was well-documented by a noteworthy and significant painter. The artist’s account book lists a “Capt. Bailey. £6. 6s” among sitters at Derby circa 1760. Despite the misspelling of the subject’s surname, the curators at Colonial Williamsburg believe it is highly likely this is the same person, given Bayly’s promotion to the rank of captain in 1757. Bayly held that rank in the 44th Foot when he returned home to Britain. He became major of the 108th regiment about a year later and served with that unit until his death in 1764.
Wright of Derby is best-known for a series of works of industrial and scientific subjects. Today, he is celebrated as one of the most accomplished British artists of the eighteenth century, and this portrait was made relatively early in the artist’s career.
The portrait was purchased through the generosity of The Friends of Colonial Williamsburg Collection Funds.
The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets. For more information, 855-296-6627 or www.colonialwilliamsburg.com
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