The Blue Boy, Thomas Gainsborough


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Gainsborough’s Blue Boy has long been singled out as a work apart. A painter’s showpiece rather than a commissioned work, it received immediate critical acclaim, was emulated by artists and valued by collectors, and the circumstances of its creation were puzzled over by connoisseurs. In 1857, its display at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, at the height of the public cult of Gainsborough, made it a particular object of reverence. Through discussion and reproduction, it became one of the handful of paintings (like the Mona Lisa and Whistler’s Mother) so familiar that it could be joked about in shorthand by people who might never see it. A Victorian fashion columnist mocked the taste for coloured kid gloves in hot weather, having seen an Edinburgh woman turn herself into The Blue Boy when the dye ran; a warehousemen’s trade magazine explained how ‘Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy” would have been bluer than ever if he passed a day in the St. Katharine’s indigo warehouse’ in London. The record-breaking price that the American railway magnate Henry Huntington paid for the painting and the emotive drama of its leave-taking from Britain in 1922 sealed its singular status. 
Gainsborough exhibited the painting at the Royal Academy in 1770 as Portrait of a Young Gentleman. Blurring the boundaries between portraiture and genre painting, it was already being called ‘The Blue Boy’ by 1798. The identity of the sitter is still a matter of debate, but whether he is Jonathan Buttall, the son of a rich ironmonger friend (as long believed) or the artist’s nephew and pupil, Gainsborough Dupont (as recently argued) or someone else entirely, all evidence points to a non-noble teenager striking a princely pose from Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of the Duke of Buckingham in George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and his Brother, Lord Francis Villiers, then at Buckingham Palace.

Dressing up in and being portrayed in ‘Vandyke’ masquerade was commonplace in Gainsborough’s Britain – a few examples of such fancy-dress costumes, in satin, braid and sequins, survive – but with The Blue Boy the artist is also performing a painterly masquerade and making a statement about his relationship to the art of the past, and about his modernity. As well as pose and gesture, Gainsborough invokes the colourism and radiance, the sense of speed and vigour in the brushwork and the eloquent drapery of the Anglo-Flemish painter, whom he considered the supreme exponent of British portraiture and against whose measure he asks The Blue Boy to be judged. The historical clothing is transposed into something akin to the late 18th-century English suit, which follows the form of the body, allowing easy movement and suggesting honesty and comfort; in Van Dyck’s satins, by contrast, pockets of air, integral to the way the fabric is woven, amplify the expressive movement of the drapery around and away from the body. As well as encouraging comparisons with Van Dyck (and Titian and Rubens), Gainsborough draws upon more recent French innovations in art; he calls to mind the belief of the painter and critic Roger de Piles that the spectator is affected not by what is represented but by the manner of the representation.
Thomas Gainsborough RA FRSA (14 May 1727 (baptised) – 2 August 1788) was an English portrait and landscape painter, draughtsman, and printmaker. Along with his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds, he is considered one of the most important British artists of the second half of the 18th century. He painted quickly, and the works of his maturity are characterised by a light palette and easy strokes. Despite being a prolific portrait painter, Gainsborough gained greater satisfaction from his landscapes. He is credited (with Richard Wilson) as the originator of the 18th-century British landscape school. Gainsborough was a founding member of the Royal Academy.
Available as a fine art print and as a stretched canvas panel (heavy fine art canvas stretched over 1.5 inch deep edge solid wood frame)

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Fine art papers are printed without any additional white border Please let us know at the time of ordering if you would like a small additional white border.

Rolled canvas options have an additional white border of approximately 2.5 inches (7cm) on all 4 sides to aid stretching.

Ready to hang canvas panels are stretched on 1.5 inch deep solid pine frames from sustainable forestry sources. The image is mirrored on all 4 sides to give an aesthetically pleasing finish.

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Why not have us gift wrap your order and attach a personalised message to the recipient. Available for all orders. Each order is hand wrapped in high quality gift wrap with meatllic ribbon and bow. Your personalised message is printed on a card which is included with your order.

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This was a present for my wife and she loves it. The quality is very good. Thanks for your excellent service.

Fantastic packaging and a stunning print. Thank you!

Great quality and a good idea to include a 'free gift' mini-pic to show what the other finishes are like.

Really excellent print quality! I have just had my print framed and it looks great thank you

This arrived quickly and is great quality, thank you! :)

My art print arrived quickly and in excellent condition! Very high quality print! Thank you!!

love my print! Very fast professional service Thank you very much

I ordered the canvas panel as a gift for my sister and she was delighted the canvas is really good quality and perfectly stretched. The finish on the back was really profesionally done too

Amazing print well printed and a reasonable price

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