Thomas Gainsborough: The Blue boy (1779)

(Huntington Library, San Marino, USA)

A painting by the English artist Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788). This is Gainsborough's most famous work. The identity of the depicted boy is not known for certain but today it is thought to be a portrait of Jonathan Buttall (1752–1805), the son of a wealthy hardware merchant who befriended Gainsborough. The painting is a homage by Gainsborough to the Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck (1599 – 1641), and in particular is very close to Van Dyck's portrait of the children of king Charles I of England. The portrait was not commissioned by the father of Jonathan Buttall (Gainsborough used a older canvas and covers another portrait) but was painted in response to the advice of the English artist Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 23 February 1792): "It ought, in my opinion, to be indispensably observed, that the masses of light in a picture be always of a warm, mellow colour, yellow, red, or a yellowish white, and that the blue, the grey, or the green colours be kept almost entirely out of these masses, and be used only to support or set off these warm colours; and for this purpose, a small proportion of cold colour will be sufficient. Let this conduct be reversed; let the light be cold, and the surrounding colour warm, as we often see in the works of the Roman and Florentine painters, and it will be out of the power of art, even in the hands of Rubens and Titian, to make a picture splendid and harmonious". In 1921 the painting was sold to the American railroad tycoon Henry Edwards Huntington for about $700,000 (or about $9.3 million today), which made it one of the most expensive paintings ever to be sold at that time. Painting from 1779.