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The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough


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The Blue Boy  portrait is currently in a gallery at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. 


 Thomas Gainsborough completed the painting sometime around the year of 1770.   There are several interesting tales to tell  with The Blue Boy.  


It is believed to be a portrait of the young son of a merchant who was a friend of Thomas.  The name of the merchants son is Jonathan Buttall.    


The painting measures 70.00 inches tall x 44.10 inches wide.   


Gainsborough had a rivalry going with another painter named Sir Joshua Reynolds.   Some believe The Blue Boy painting was done in a manner to needle Reynolds who said that ..." light in a picture should always be of a warm , mellow color ... and that blue, grey or green be kept almost entirely out... "


To that Gainsborough replied, 



            This is a photographic reproduction of a public domain work of art.   The work of art itself is in the public domain.




The portrait has been X-Rayed and it was discovered that there had been a dog painted in the lower right hand corner that Gainsborough covered over and made into rocks and plants.   


I've heard that one reason was that Gainsborough had difficulty with painting the dog as he wished it to appear, so eventually abandoned it and just covered it up.   


It's also been claimed that Gainsborough felt the dog competed with the portrait of Joshua and therefore Thomas decided to remove it from the painting by covering it over with rocks and plants.  


Something else that I find to be extremely interesting, is that to save money, many artists would re-use canvas.  Whatever the reason, Thomas Gainsborough did indeed reuse the canvas he painted Joshua onto since the X-Ray revealed that a portrait of an elderly man had been started and abandoned by Gainsborough, and covered over by the painting of The Blue Boy.   The location of the elderly man's face is just to the left and slightly above Joshua's head.  


What is fascinating about that is in some ways Joshua Buttail achieved a type of immortality and fame.   Whoever the elderly man was, he had his opportunity with the same, however, his chance at immortality and fame was erased by Gainsborough.   




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