Thomas Gainsborough, Blue Boy, Oil on canvas, 70 inches by 48 inches,  circa 1770, currently residing in Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

Gainsborough’s famous portrait of the Blue Boy is a wonderful example of Rococo artwork from the Classical era. The piece demonstrates almost to a ‘T’ the various aspects of Rococo art: details, special attention paid to highlights, delicate form of the figure, pastel-like colors, and is, in effect a romanticized portrait of a young man with a rounded and glowing face.  The piece is done in Gainsborough’s typical free and elegant style, with rapid and light brushstrokes and an evanescent feel. Personally, I feel that Gainsborough’s style is possibly a precursor to Impressionism style, with his visible brushstrokes and delicate colors.

The painting itself is believed to be a portrait of Jonathan Buttall, the son of a wealthy merchant, and it known from luminescent probing that there is another painting beneath Blue Boy. According to one source, Gainsborough painted this particular piece in response to his rival Joshua Reynolds commenting that “light in a picture be always of a warm, mellow colour… for this purpose to [set off these warm colours]… a small proportion of cold colour will be sufficient. Let this conduct be reversed: let the light be cold, and the surrounding colour warm… and it will be out of the power of art… to make a picture splendid and harmonious.” (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blue_Boy)

Beyond all of this, I believe that Blue Boy also demonstrates Enlightenment thinking in action, in particular, rational humanism, or the idea that humans should be free to think and learn. The reason for this is that Gainsborough was able to take Reynolds comments and respond to them in a powerful and memorable way. Gainsborough himself was known for being inspired by the works of Van Eyck and Rubens, but also from being able to assimilate his own personal style and ideas what he learned from the masters. Truly a great example of Classical art and artist.

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