Joseph Badger
Cornelius Waldo
, 1750

Cornelius Waldo is a three-quarter-length portrait of an elderly seated man facing three-quarters right. He wears a wig with tight horizontal curls; the hair is painted with long strokes of white and gray in low impasto. Waldo’s face is a large oval with a fleshy neck; his eyes are brown. Gray underpainting is visible around the nose, mouth, and chin. The nose casts a shadow on the right side of the face, implying a light source from the upper left. Except for the shadow and a crease along the chin line, there is little modeling in the face.

Waldo wears a simple white neck cloth, a brown waistcoat, and a collarless greatcoat with nine brown buttons accented with yellow and white highlights. His coat sleeves are folded back to reveal buttons on the cuffs. The folds in the coat suggest attempts by Badger at trompe l’oeil effects in the proper right sleeve and in the opening of the greatcoat. His attention to detail is evident in the hands, which include veins, highlights on the knuckles, creases on the finger joints, and carefully delineated fingernails. Waldo wears black breeches with rectangular buckles decorated with a simple floral motif on the four edges. White stockings are visible below the breeches.

The subject sits in a high-backed wooden armchair with green upholstery on the back and seat. The arm of the chair at the viewer’s right shows a scroll terminus, which is awkwardly turned as though the chair was at a right angle rather than in a three-quarters view. To Waldo’s right is a table draped in a green cloth with regularly spaced rows of white stitching and black and yellow decoration. On the table is a book inscribed in script "Memorandum/ Boston/ Novr/ 1750", below which is a page and a half of illegible writing. The far leaf of the book is tipped impossibly toward the picture plane and seems to float. The white pages have become semitransparent, revealing that the book was painted on top of the drapery. To the right of the book is a gray inkwell containing a single white plume. Badger has clearly struggled with the foreshortening throughout, especially in this part of the painting.

The background consists of a brown wall that is lightest to the immediate right of the sitter and that darkens farther to the right. This transition is made in several gradations in narrow sections painted with broad horizontal brushstrokes. The background is darkest to the left of the figure. Badger created a narrow band of light brown to outline the sitter’s proper left arm. Also in the background, behind the table, is a brown column, with highlights on the turnings at the base. At bottom-right is the following inscription in yellow paint: "Born Nov.r /––––1684––––/ Painted Novr/–––1750––." The first two lines of this inscription are printed as though they were typeset, and the last two lines are in script.

Cornelius Waldo was a twin, born with his brother Jonathan on November 17, 1684, in Dunstable, Massachusetts, to Cornelius (before 1657–before 1697) and Faith Peck Jackson Waldo (1658–1732). He was baptized at the First Church in Boston in 1692. On August 28, 1711, he wed Faith Savage, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth (Scottow) Savage of Boston. She was pregnant with their first child at the time, which led one genealogist to adjust the marriage date to 1710. They had nine children, including Daniel Waldo, who established the family in Worcester in 1782. Daniel Waldo sat for his portrait by Christian Gullager, a Swedish émigré who visited Worcester in 1789.1

Cornelius Waldo was a prosperous merchant, distiller, and landowner who held property in Boston, elsewhere in Massachusetts, and in Maine. According to family tradition, he was apprenticed to the Boston merchant John Oulton, who was later Waldo’s business partner. In 1712 the two men sold imported goods from London at their warehouse in Corn-market, including an array of ropes, from thin "Ratling" to "Cables of ten inches" thick; Spanish iron; "Hollands Duck," or linen; and gunpowder.2 In 1716 the two men were offering a similar array of "European Goods" at their warehouse, now on King-street in Boston.3 In 1721 Oulton and Waldo imported "Canary Wines," which they sold "by the Pipe or Quarter Cask."4 In 1734 Cornelius formed a brief partnership with his cousin Samuel, selling Madeira wine, which they had shipped from St. Kitts, by the pipe, hogshead, or quarter cask.5 (Samuel would later go on to fame for his role as second in command to Sir William Pepperrell in the attack on the French at Louisbourg.)6 In 1737 Cornelius placed his own advertisement for imported textiles next door to the Bunch of Grapes Tavern on Leverett’s Lane, the address and trade formerly maintained by his wife, Faith.7 The next year, he advertised textiles for sale at his dwelling on Leverett’s Lane near King-street, at his distilling house at Barton’s Point, and at his warehouse on Long Wharf.8 Waldo continued in the merchant trade until 1748, when his sons Joseph and Daniel Waldo began selling various imported items on King-street.9 Although Cornelius Waldo is represented in his portrait as an active merchant updating his account books, Badger painted it in 1750, the year he apparently retired from business.

In addition to his merchant trade, Waldo established a distilling business in Boston. In 1722 he leased land from John Leverett and obtained permission to erect a still house. In 1738 he was selling rum, probably of his own manufacture, by the hogshead, barrel, and quarter cask.10 By 1743 his operations included several wells, a building at least forty feet long, a "Rum House and Engine that his Horse goes in to pump the Water," and a stable built over one of the wells. His works included "Stills" and "a mighty Worm Tub" that covered enough ground to fit a "Stable for two Horses & Hay to feed them."11

Waldo’s remaining enterprise was investment in land in Massachusetts and Maine. In 1719 he was a partner with his uncle Jonathan and Jonathan’s son-in-law Thomas Fairweather as one of twenty associate owners (along with ten original proprietors) of the Muscungus Patent, a vast tract of land in Maine that once encompassed a million acres. Cornelius’s cousin Samuel would eventually own half of these acres.12 The land Waldo bought in Worcester County in partnership with John Oulton and Thomas Palmer was divided in 1727, when the partnership was dissolved. In 1733 he purchased a farm in Watertown; he would later offer to lease the back part of the dwelling to "a good Husbandman" and the front part of the house with "Gardens and other Accommodations, to a Gentleman for a Country Seat." At the time of his death, Waldo owned land in Rutland, Worcester, Holden, Watertown, and Plymouth.13

There are hints about Cornelius Waldo’s character and disposition in contemporary sources. Samuel Sewall recognized Waldo and his wife for their hospitality, noting that "He and she were very Courteous to me" when they gave Sewall shelter from the rain while waiting for the funeral of a Mr. Hiller in January of 1721.14 Waldo was not afraid to challenge powerful men, as demonstrated by his opposition in 1740 to the successful plot by Cornelius’s cousin Samuel, William Shirley, and others to unseat Governor Jonathan Belcher in favor of Shirley.15 Waldo also could be obstinate. For example, when he felt he was treated unjustly in a 1743 land dispute, he refused to negotiate, telling John Staniford, "[You have] chosen the Law, the Law should finish it."16 Waldo held a number of minor offices in Boston, including justice of the peace for Suffolk County.17 At his death, Waldo’s estate of nearly 3,700 pounds was comprised primarily of land and included one "Negro Woman," probably a slave, who was valued at 200 pounds.18

Lawrence Park, who assembled the first biography and checklist on the artist, made the attribution of this portrait to Joseph Badger in 1917.19 In the nineteenth century, it was incorrectly attributed to John Smibert.20 Despite suggestions that the work may have been updated by a second hand, the paint handling is consistent with closely related portraits from around the same time.21

Cornelius Waldo is a pendant to Faith Savage Waldo (Mrs. Cornelius Waldo). These portraits of a husband and wife have descended together in the sitters’ family. The dimensions of the two images are alike, as are the three-quarters format and even the chair in which each is posed. Although pendants typically face one another, each these faces the viewer’s right. Despite these similarities, the portrait of Mr. Waldo appears more refined than that of his wife. Badger here made greater effort to provide individualizing detail, and his paint handling is generally more fluid and subtle. The greatest weaknesses of drawing in this portrait are seen in the furniture and still-life objects, whereas the figure of Mrs. Waldo is the weakest aspect of that painting.

Figure 1. John Faber, Jr., after John Vanderbank, Sir Isaac Newton, 1725, mezzotint,
13 3/4 x 9 1/8 in. (34.9 x 23.2 cm), Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware. Courtesy, Winterhur Museum.

Both Waldo portraits derive from the same English source, a 1725 mezzotint by John Faber, Jr., after John Vanderbank of Sir Isaac Newton (fig. 1).22 From that print, Badger obtained the overall format: three-quarter-length pose, body turned toward the viewer’s right, and eyes looking forward. The light source, falling from the upper left, is also consistent with the mezzotint. The high-backed, upholstered armchair is transcribed directly from the print. The arrangement of Mr. Waldo’s hands resembles Newton’s, and the column and even its highlights clearly are taken from that work. Badger also borrowed from the Faber print for his portraits of Thomas Cushing (about 1745, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts) and James Bowdoin (about 1746–47; two versions, Detroit Institute of Arts and Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine). The use of prints as sources was common among eighteenth-century American painters, ranging from sophisticated artists such as John Singleton Copley and John Smibert to less skilled painters such as Badger and the anonymous artists who decorated overmantels. Whether the Newton print was chosen for purely aesthetic reasons or for iconographic ones cannot be definitively determined, although two commentators deem the composition particularly fitting for venerating older sitters.23

The inclusion of an account book is a characteristic use of emblematic props in Badger’s portraits: a teething toy for an infant, a pet for a child, and so on. The book and inkwell identify Cornelius Waldo as an entrepreneur, probably referring to his trade in imported goods from London and the Caribbean and perhaps also to his distilling business. Similar representations of businessmen—answering letters or writing in their account books—are found in the work of Smibert, as in his London portrait of Henry Ferne (1727, Worcester Art Museum) and such American portraits as Daniel Oliver (1729, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and Joshua Winslow (1729, Boston Athenaeum).24 The London-trained Joseph Blackburn painted men attending to their business in such portraits as Colonel Theodore Atkinson. And in 1765, Badger’s fellow Bostonian John Singleton Copley would paint the fashionable young merchant John Hancock, similarly employed (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, deposited by the City of Boston). Smibert’s, Blackburn’s, and Copley’s portraits give the impression of the sitter being momentarily interrupted, whereas Badger’s Cornelius Waldo is static, and the worktable functions strictly as an attribute of his profession.

1. Cornelius Waldo’s biography is based on Lincoln 1898, 5, 9–10; Lincoln 1902, I, 69–74; and Nutt 1919, I, 253.

2. Boston News-Letter, June 23–30, 1712.

3. Ibid., September 24–October 1, 1716.

4. Ibid., July 31–August 7, 1721. A pipe was equivalent to half a tun, or two hogsheads, or four barrels, Oxford English Dictionary.

5. Boston Weekly News-Letter, August 29–September 12, 1734.

6. Lincoln 1898, 11. Samuel Waldo is the subject of a full-length portrait by Robert Feke (Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine).

7. Boston News-Letter, April 28–May 5, 1737.

8. Boston Gazette, November 27–December 25, 1738.

9. Boston Weekly Gazette or Weekly Journal, May 24 and 31, 1748.

10. Boston Gazette, November 27–December 25, 1738.

11. This account of the distilling operation is found in an open letter describing a land dispute between Waldo and John Staniford, Boston Gazette or Weekly, September 20, 1743.

12. Lincoln 1902, I, 98–99.

13. Boston Weekly News-Letter, March 4–18, 1742; probate inventory of Cornelius Waldo, April 26, 1754, Suffolk County Probate Records, Boston, docket 10482, vol. 49, 273.

14. Thomas 1973, II, 971.

15. Lincoln 1902, I, 73.

16. Boston Gazette, September 20, 1743.

17. Boston Gazette, June 5, 1753. It reads, "And Yesterday died here after a painful Illness Cornelius Waldo, Esq; One of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the County of Suffolk."

18. Inventory of the estate of Cornelius Waldo, April 26, 1754, Suffolk County Registry of Probate, Boston, docket 10482.

19. Park 1918a, 160 n 1, 164, 168, 199–200.

20. Tuckerman 1867, 42.

21. William Sawitzky proposed that Christian Gullager may have updated the Badger portraits when he painted likenesses of Waldo’s son and daughter-in-law Daniel Waldo, Sr. and Rebecca Salisbury Waldo in Worcester about 1789. Dresser 1949, 110; Sadik 1976, 18, 33 n 14. After examining the Waldo portraits closely with the museum’s conservator, Edmond de Beaumont, the curator Louisa Dresser concluded, "No evidence can be found that these areas are of later date than the rest of the painted surfaces." Memorandum, June 26, 1956, object file, Worcester Art Museum. Close physical examination of the painting undertaken for this catalogue supports the attribution to a single artist.

22. Sellers 1957, 425, 427; Belknap 1959, 290, 325, and plate 18.

23. Sellers 1957, 412; Prosser 1995, 200.

24. Saunders 1995, 107, 149, 162, 201, 205.