Welcome back Mr. Pitt

On the afternoon of July 21 we welcomed a new resident to Stratford’s Great House – William Pitt.  Or more exactly, a hand-painted portrait copy of Mr. Pitt.

Among Charles Carter Lee’s youthful recollections can be found a passage reflecting on the décor of the parlor and Picture6other rooms of Stratford:  “…I recollect, among the fartherest back of my memories that I was carried on a visit…to ladies yet lingering in the house [Chantilly]; & that it was the first in which I saw papered rooms.  And O! how much more beautiful I thought their pretty pictures than the carvings of the wainscotted saloon, & the painted walls of the white room & blue room, & drawing room, adorned though it was with the full length portrait of the great Chatham…of the great big house at Stratford.”[1]  This memory provides a visual clue as to not only the wall covering in the parlor, but also at least one painting hanging on its walls:  that of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham.  The reference compelled Stratford Hall’s Historic Interiors Advisory Panel to proclaim that “the portrait of William Pitt, presently in the collections of the Westmoreland County Museum, is one of the original furnishings of Stratford’s Drawing Room and can be identified as a priority for refurnishing.”[2]  Further evidence for the commissioning and presentation of this portrait to Westmoreland County is well documented, and the portrait by Charles Willson Peale survives.

The original portrait came to the County in 1769, and Richard Henry Lee writes back to England to his agent Edmund Jennings:  “The gentlemen of Westmoreland, desire me to return their hearty thanks to you, for your very genteel present of Lord Chatham’s picture.  It arrived in fine order, and is very much admired…”[i]  Since the courthouse could not accommodate its large size it instead went to Chantilly (Richard Henry Lee’s house).  Upon Richard Henry Lee’s death in 1794 it moved to Stratford and Charles Carter Lee recalls it being on display in the parlor during his childhood there.[ii]  According to Henry Lee IV in a letter written from Stratford in 1821, the large painting’s “preservation was confided to Mr. [Richard Henry] Lee, shortly after whose death [1794] it was brought here.”[3]  Henry Lee IV transfers it back to County hands in 1821/1822 as a new courthouse was built around that time that could accommodate the portrait.

parlor_pittIn examining Richard Henry Lee’s 1794 estate inventory, the contents of the parlor were found to include “1 small Black frame with Mr. Pits Speech…0.1.6” along with other framed prints (presumably hanging on the walls).[4]  Although the portrait of William Pitt is not listed, it is presumed to have hung alongside the copy of Pitt’s speech and was skipped by the estate appraisers since it was not the personal property of Lee.  We are reproducing Mr. Pitt’s Speech, through the Library of Congress, who owns the only copy known to us – soon you will be able to see a faithful reprint of this in the Stratford Hall parlor alongside the William Pitt portrait.

But you may ask why the Lee family, known for their outspoken support of a declaration of independence from England might hang a portrait of an English politician in their house.  William Pitt’s portrait was a commission for the Gentlemen of Westmoreland County in 1769 in recognition of Pitt’s help in repealing the Stamp Act.  Richard Henry Lee and his brothers were strongly against this taxation and Lee helped formulate the Leedstown or Westmoreland Resolves, which was one of the first public acts of sedition in the colonies against the Crown.  Pitt, a member of the House of Lords at the time, stood up in Parliament and gave a very eloquent speech that defended the rights of the colonies.  So, he certainly won some fans in Westmoreland County and among the Lee family!

-Gretchen Goodell-Pendleton, Curator


Friday, August 5, 2016 will be a free admission community day in honor of the unveiling of the Pitt Portrait! More information can be found here.


The William Pitt Portrait Project was made possible through funding by the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation.  Thanks also go to Westmoreland County and the Westmoreland County Museum for their support of this project.
Portrait copy – Bradley Stevens
Frame – F. Carey Howlett & Associates
Gilding – Sandy Jensen
Frame produced in partnership with Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (conservators Carol Sawyer and Bruce Suffield), who allowed Howlett and Jensen to duplicate elements of frame on Benjamin West’s Portrait of Prince William and his Elder Sister, Princess Sophia (1779) – simplified to suit the original request from the gentlemen of Westmoreland County that the frame be a “plain gilt” frame.
Hanging hardware – Peter Ross
Hanging hardware based on extant examples at James Madison’s Montpelier; thanks to Jennifer Glass and her colleagues for helping with access and measurements.

[1] Charles Carter Lee Papers.  Transcript.  Blue furnishing files, Portraits/Prints, “Portraits:  Lord Camden/Lord Chatham” folder, curatorial files.

[2] Robert Leath & Historic Interiors Advisory Panel, Lee Heritage Interpretive Plan (c. 2000), p. 4.

[3] Henry Lee IV, Stratford, to the Court of Westmoreland, 25 January 1821.  Transcript.  Blue furnishing files, Portraits/Prints, “Portraits:  Lord Camden/Lord Chatham” folder, curatorial files.

[4] Richard Henry Lee, Estate Inventory, 1794.  Transcript by Amanda Creekman, August 2001.  Blue furnishing files, Richard H. Lee 1796 Estate, curatorial files.  The framed print was included on a list of “articles subject to a general Distribution between Mrs. Lee & the five daughters of Col. Richard Henry Lee decd.” and is presumed to have been allotted as such.  See transcript in Blue furnishing files, Richard Henry Lee, curatorial files.

[i] Richard Henry Lee to Edmund Jenings, 31 May 1769; from R. H. Lee, Memoir of Richard Henry Lee, I. 51. (as cited in “The letters of Richard Henry Lee,” p. 36).

[ii] Recollections of Charles Carter Lee, unpublished manuscript.