Joseph Badger


was a portrait painter, housepainter, glazier, and painter of signs and heraldic devices in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where he was born to a tailor. He marriedKatherine Felch in 1731 and settled in Boston about 1733. The farthest Badger appears to have ventured from Boston was to Dedham, Massachusetts, where he painted a house. Badger, apparently self-taught, began painting portraits during the 1740s, although he never gave up his other trades. Approximately 150 of Badger’s portraits survive; none are signed, but they are attributed to him.Badger’s background as a tradesman, and the fact that many of his sitters were at least his age or older, probably made it inevitable that he would be less interestedin advancing the art of portrait painting than in continuing conservative practice. In 1746 the retirement of Boston’s leading portrait painter, John Smibert, created anopening for an ambitious, younger artist. Possessing a distinctive talent and fairly well patronized, Badger was one of the painters who filled the void between Smibert’sdeparture and John Singleton Copley’s (1738–1815) creative maturation, about the time of Badger’s death.Using subdued colors, heavily shadowed faces enlivened by rosy cheeks, and his apparent delight in painting the deep folds of costume fabrics, Badger createdaffable likenesses of sitters who, it has been noted, often appear as ill at ease in posing for Badger as the artist may have been in painting them. Backgrounds arefrequently dark and ill defined, and Badger’s practice of outlining unconvincingly foreshortened hands and arms with deep shadows gives his work a linear quality,which tends to flatten the images. Unlike his adults, Badger customarily painted children standing at full length, wearing colorful costumes before landscape backgrounds, and holding props such as toys or pets.The distance a painting must stray from academic standards to be considered folk art is unclear. There were some artists capable of painting more refined workswho deliberately simplified their style, to increase the speed at which they could finish a portrait and to make their work more affordable. Badger was aware of the prevailing portrait styles, and he may have applied painting techniques derived from decorative painting work to his portraits to increase efficiency. The results may beconservative and appear innocent to modern eyes, but the mariners, merchants, and physicians who patronized Badger sought his acknowledged ability to createfashionable expressions of their place in Boston society.
See also
Painting, American Folk; John Smibert
Miles, Ellen G.
American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century.
Washington, D.C., 1995.Saunders, Richard H., and Ellen G.Miles.
American Colonial Portraits, 1700–1776.
Washington, D.C., 1987.