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Governor William Burnet (1688–1729)
Date: ca. 1725
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Medium: Black ink and wash and graphite with glazing on vellum
Dimensions: Overall (irregular oval): 3 7/8 × 2 13/16 in. (9.8 × 7.1 cm)
Description: Portrait
Credit Line: Purchase, Belknap Fund
Object Number: 1953.46
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Inscribed: Verso inscribed at upper center in faded brown ink: "Governor Burnet"; at center in graphite: "Gov Burnet"

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This miniature likeness by John Watson is painted in grisaille on vellum. Based on the evidence of the support’s uneven edges, it appears to have been trimmed. The sitter is William Burnet, who was born in The Hague, where his father, Gilbert Burnet, a fervent Protestant, had gone into exile during the reign of King James II. Burnet came to New York City in 1720 as royal governor of the provinces of New Jersey and New York, where he served until 1728; he then briefly assumed the governorship of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Burnet’s armor refers to his military prowess, while his jabot and fashionable, powdered full-bottomed wig underline his status as a gentleman. The portrait is related to thirteen other small portrait drawings by Watson that were given to the New Jersey Historical Society by Mrs. Lucien B. Horton, from whom the Society purchased this work.

According to an 1834 biography by William Dunlap, John Watson came to America from Scotland in about 1714, settling in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where he kept an art gallery in two rooms of his home. His success as a wealthy merchant, financier, and landowner in northern New Jersey and New York City gave him access to potential sitters, helping to establish him as one of New Jersey’s earliest portraitists. The Society’s Department of Manuscripts holds two record books of Watson and his nephew Alexander containing documentation of his activity as an artist.


Descent through artist's family, Sophia Watson Waterhouse; Sophia Waterhouse Brown; Maria Forbes; Elizabeth Forbes Benton; Susannah F.F. Benton; Roberta Stockton Benton (Mrs. Lucien B. Horton)


"Drawn By New York: Six Centuries of Watercolors and Drawings," New-York Historical Society, September 18, 2008–January 07, 2009.