Captain Henry Fitzhugh, 1751
In Captain Henry Fitzhugh (1687–1758), John Hesselius encountered an elderly sitter. Aged sixty-four, with a sight impairment, Fitzhugh was still a man of dignity and character. He was impeccably groomed and dressed. His character was developed early. Tutored since age three by an immigrant Frenchman, Fitzhugh could read and write only French until age eleven, when he was sent to England for further education. With him went instructions that he was to be furnished with clothing "fit & decent" rather than "rich and gaudy." Though a second son, young Fitzhugh so distinguished himself as a scholar that he was willed half his father's large library. In turn he dutifully served in county government and in Williamsburg, bringing credit to the family.
This canvas was commissioned by the captain's son, Colonel Henry Fitzhugh, as both an image of a beloved parent and a statement about family status.