Joseph Badger
Rebecca Orne (Mrs. Joseph Cabot)
, 1757

Rebecca Orne is a half-length portrait of a standing child, turned three-quarters to the right with her head facing nearly forward. The figure is placed toward the top of the canvas, creating a crowded composition that is characteristic of portraits by Joseph Badger. The girl’s oval face is framed with brown hair that is pulled back at the top and sides to fall in loose curls at the back of her neck. Her brown eyes gaze directly at the viewer.

The flesh tones in the face, chest, and arms have been abraded, revealing the gray underpainting. Badger probably used this cool gray as a mid-tone in the flesh, but the current condition exaggerates this first layer of paint. This type of deterioration is common in Badger’s paintings, leading one art historian to describe his portraits as "spectral."1 No doubt his paintings were livelier in their original state, although the artist, who was trained as a glazier-painter, possessed only a limited technical knowledge of his pigments and medium. There are shadows in the face on the right side of the forehead, under the eyes, to the right of the nose, under the chin, and on the right side of the throat.

Rebecca Orne’s proper right arm crosses in front of her body at her waist, and she holds a gray and white squirrel on her outstretched hand and wrist. The three fingers of the left hand that rest on the squirrel’s back appear awkwardly detached, since neither the left arm nor the rest of that hand is represented. The squirrel’s fur is painted with long hatched strokes of white and varying shades of gray. Its ears stand erect at a slight angle, and its tail forms a tall S-curve. The child’s arm casts a shadow on her dress, helping to bring this part of the painting forward.

The girl wears a dress made of a shimmering pink fabric, which is the most fluidly painted element in the composition. The neckline begins at her shoulders and is cut low across her chest. The only visible sleeve ends just below the elbow and has a wide cuff that flares out and rests on the girl’s forearm. The pink fabric is painted with light and dark curving strokes blended together, suggesting that the dress is pulled tightly across the girl’s torso; sharper contrasts of light and dark pink in the sleeves and skirt indicate looser folds of fabric in those areas. The skirt flows out from the waist at the bottom of the composition. The dress is trimmed with semitransparent white ruffles at the neck and cuffs, where the fabric is widest. The outer edges of this trim are painted in white with low impasto, and the shadows created behind these folds are painted dark red.

The brown background is darkest at the left side of the painting and lightest directly to the girl’s right; a very light brown highlight traces the outline of her torso. The background becomes gradually darker as the eye moves toward the right edge of the painting. In the upper-right corner is a pale blue section, which has probably faded from its original intensity.

Rebecca Orne, born on July 17, 1748, and baptized two weeks later at the First Church in Salem, was the oldest of eight children of Timothy (1717–1767) and Rebecca Orne (1727–1771).2 She was nine years old when Badger painted her portrait. Her father was a leading import merchant in Salem. Timothy Orne’s business papers indicate that one merchant with whom he transacted business was Joseph Cabot, the father of Rebecca Orne’s future husband.3 Both men were among the town’s most prosperous shipowners.4 During his career, Orne owned more than fifty vessels that sailed to the West Indies and Europe, carrying fish, cloth, wine, rum, brandy, grains, molasses, and slaves.5 Among those vessels were a sloop and a schooner, each christened Rebecca, probably in his wife’s honor. Besides his trading ships, he owned vessels that supplied his other ships with Atlantic fish for trade. Orne and the elder Joseph Cabot were among the five founders of a "Civil Society" formed in 1745 for the "Preservation of Friendship & Conversation." They also expressed their genteel aspirations as founding subscribers to Salem’s first library, established in 1760. Timothy Orne’s social standing is further demonstrated by his election to selectman of Salem in 1754.6 He died on July 14, 1767, leaving his daughters substantial wealth: one-quarter of his dwelling, one- eighth of the adjoining lands, one-eighth of the barn and other outbuildings, two common rights in Salem, and 1,500 pounds lawful money. As the first born, Rebecca received an additional 100 pounds.7

She married Captain Joseph Cabot, Jr. (1746–1774), who also was a prominent merchant in Salem. A native of Salem, he entered Harvard College in 1760 but left during his first year after being punished for "Rude and insolent Behavior" toward a tutor on the Sabbath.8 In 1765–66 Cabot was the master of a schooner, Two Brothers, that sailed to Palermo, the West Indies, and back to Salem. In 1766 he was the captain of the brig Tartar, which sailed for Spain and Portugal.9 When Joseph Cabot, Sr., died in December 1767, his namesake inherited 600 pounds, "including what He is charged with in my Books."10 He then stepped into the trading business. Fortuitously, Rebecca Orne had inherited an even greater sum than her husband-to-be the year before their wedding, which took place on August 4, 1768.11

Shortly after their nuptials, Joseph and Rebecca paid his mother 1,000 pounds for the family’s "Mansion House Shop and Store Barn and Wood house & Homestead Land," encompassing a one-and-one-quarter-acre lot.12 The dwelling, built on Essex Street in 1748 for Cabot’s father "by a strolling English architect," was described years later by a descendant as "the finest house then in Salem."13 The following year, 1769, Rebecca became a member of the First Church of Salem.14 The couple had two children, Rebecca Orne Cabot (1769–1860) and Joseph Cabot (1770–1799).15 Rebecca’s husband died February 5, 1774, at age twenty-eight, and she remained a widow until her own death, November 16, 1818, at age seventy.16 Just after she died, the Reverend William Bentley noted that she had been the victim of a fraud involving the Essex Bank in Salem: "Another widow robbed of her property has gone to her grave. How many more will go the same way is unknown."17 Further information about this sad turn of events has not been uncovered.

Rebecca Orne
is one of six portraits Timothy Orne commissioned Joseph Badger to produce. The paintings were ordered in 1756 and completed in 1757, according to Orne’s account books.18 They included two larger (49 3/4 x 39 1/2 in.) three-quarter-length portraits of Timothy and his wife, Rebecca (location unknown), and four of the children: Rebecca, Timothy (born 1750), Sarah (born 1752), and Lois (born 1756).19 The portraits of Rebecca and Lois are in the Worcester Art Museum; the locations of the other two children’s likenesses are unknown. Orne also paid Badger for "a Painted Highlander" and "a Painted Laughing Boy," which the Badger scholar Richard Nylander proposes might have been hand-colored European prints of genre subjects.20 Orne paid Badger six pounds for each of the portraits of the adults, a total of five pounds five shillings for the four portraits of his children, and one pound one shilling for the two genre pieces.21 The portraits are listed in Timothy Orne’s probate inventory, along with another family portrait, at a total value of twenty-two pounds sixteen shillings.22 Because of this clear documentation, the Orne portraits are the most important extant group by Joseph Badger and have long been regarded as benchmarks for other attributions to this artist.

More than one-third of Badger’s known portraits represent children, a high proportion relative to his contemporaries. Perhaps this was because Badger successfully negotiated to paint individual portraits of entire families in several instances, including, in addition to the Ornes, the Brays of Boston (destroyed), and the Fosters of Charlestown, Massachusetts (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). He also painted several children in his own family, including his son (or grandson) Benjamin (about 1762, Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware) and grandson James (about 1762, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).23 The children are typically shown accompanied by a single attribute: a pet bird, squirrel, or dog; a flower or piece of fruit; or, in the case of infants, a rattle.

The squirrel Rebecca Orne holds may signify the self-control expected of a refined child in the eighteenth century, when the capturing and taming of a wild creature was considered a self-improving experience for the pet’s master.24 A squirrel also is featured in Badger’s Sarah Badger (about 1755, Collection of Mrs. Robert Comey, Jr., as of 1980); Portrait of Two Children (about 1758, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Virginia); Thomas Mason (1758, location unknown); and Benjamin Badger (about 1762, Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware). Rebecca Orne differs from those other four portraits in that the subject cradles the pet between her hands; in the other examples, the squirrel is perched on the wrist of the child’s outstretched arm. Sarah Badger’s squirrel is restrained by a tiny collar and chain, as is the squirrel that figures famously in John Singleton Copley’s slightly later Henry Pelham (Boy with a Squirrel) (1765, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), as well as those in his John Bee Holmes (1765, Dietrich Collection, on deposit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art), Mrs. Theodore Atkinson (1765, New York Public Library), and Daniel Verplanck (1771, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

1. Quick 1981, 94.

2. Ellery and Bowditch 1897, I, 186.

3. Orne Family Papers, Philips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.; Briggs 1927, I, 51.

4. Phillips 1937b, 239.

5. Information on Timothy Orne’s ships is gleaned from the unpublished guide to the Orne Family Papers, Philips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.

6. For the Civil Society, see Phillips 1937, 180; for the library, idem, 258; and for Orne’s election, idem, 463.

7. Timothy Orne will, May 28, 1767, proved August 4, 1767, Essex County Probate Records, case 20104.

8. Sibley and Shipton, XVI, 1972, 33–34.

9. Briggs 1927, I, 119–20.

10. Essex County Probate Records, case 4441.

11. As quoted in Ellery and Bowditch 1897, I, 187.

12. Essex County Registry of Deeds, vol. 121, p. 271; Briggs 1927, I, 53.

13. Ellery and Bowditch 1897, I, 187; Briggs 1927, I, 52.

14. Ellery and Bowditch 1897, I, 186.

15. Briggs 1927, I, 119.

16. Essex Gazette, February 1–8, 1774; Salem Gazette, November 20, 1818.

17. Bentley 1962, IV, 561, entry for November 16, 1818.

18. Timothy Orne’s memorandum books are in Orne Family Papers, Philips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass. Payments to Badger are recorded October 27, 1756, and January 1, September 9, September 25, and October 17, 1757. Dresser 1972, 1.

19. The portraits of the parents were sold at Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, October 25, 1973, Highly Important Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century American Paintings, sale no. 3561, lot 2.

20. Nylander 1972, 24.

21. Dresser 1972, 1.

22. Ibid., 10.

23. Warren 1980, 1043–47.

24. Warren 1998, 175 n 7; Paul Staiti, "Character and Class," in Rebora 1995, 64.