This portrait shows Captain Robert Orme (1725–90) at the age of 31, during the war against the French for supremacy in the North American colonies. Reynolds painted it on speculation in the hope of selling it or displaying it to gain more work.
Orme was aide-de-camp to General Edward Braddock, commander-in-chief of the British forces in America, and was friends with the young George Washington. On 9 July 1755, General Braddock and his forces were ambushed and defeated by French and Native American riflemen near Fort Du Quesne on the Ohio River. In Reynolds’s portrait, Orme seems about to leap on his horse and ride off with reports of the battle. The dispatch he holds is illegible but may carry news of Braddock’s death. The poses of Orme and his horse are derived from a fresco by Jacopo Ligozzi in the church of Ognissanti in Florence, which Reynolds drew in 1752 in his Italian sketchbook.
This portrait shows Captain Robert Orme (1725–90) at the age of 31, during the war against the French for supremacy in the North American colonies. The portrait was not commissioned by the sitter or his relatives, and was never owned by him, but was painted on speculation by Reynolds with the hope of selling it or displaying it to gain more work.
Orme was first commissioned as ensign in the 34th Foot. He transferred to the Coldstream Guards on 16 September 1745 and was promoted to lieutenant on 24 April 1751. He was aide-de-camp to General Edward Braddock, commander-in-chief of the British forces in America. Orme became friends with the young George Washington, who in May 1755 volunteered to serve under General Braddock.
On 9 July 1755, General Braddock and his forces were ambushed and defeated by French and Native American riflemen near Fort Du Quesne on the Ohio River. Braddock’s troops were virtually massacred and he was mortally wounded. Orme was also wounded but George Washington was unharmed.
In Reynolds’s portrait, Orme stands beside his horse, as though about to leap on and ride off with reports of the battle. The dispatch in his hand is illegible but it may carry news of Braddock’s death. Orme wears his campaign uniform as an officer of the Coldstream Guards: a scarlet frock-coat with blue lapels and cuffs over a grey waistcoat (all trimmed with broad gold lace), buff breeches and black gaiters over buckled shoes. His sword-belt is worn under his coat and only the hilt and tip show. His long hair is tied behind his neck and a blue and gold sash is looped over his horse’s saddle. Orme’s face, with its urgent, haunted expression, is set against a break in the thunderous clouds and smoke rising from the battlefield, which is glimpsed to the right, below the tails of his coat. The drama, action and heroism of battle are expressed in the Captain’s tense, dynamic stance. The poses of both Orme and his horse are derived from one of the lunette frescoes by Jacopo Ligozzi in the church of Ognissanti in Florence, which Reynolds drew in 1752 in his Italian sketchbook. Copying elements from old master paintings was typical of Reynolds’s approach.
Orme probably sat for the portrait late in 1755, soon after his return to England. Reynolds was keen to keep heroic full-length portraits on display in his studio, so that his sitters might be persuaded to commission something more ambitious than a mere head-and-shoulders likeness of themselves. For a time, Captain Orme hung with Reynolds’s portrait of Commander Augustus Keppel (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich), where it drew much notice for its ‘boldness and singularity’. Perhaps Reynolds also hoped that a portrait of a military hero might attract an engraver and so increase his own fame. However, Captain Orme was never engraved. The painting was eventually bought in December 1777 by 5th Earl of Inchiquin, simply as a fine example of Reynolds’s work.
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