The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough

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The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough

Painting NameThe Blue Boy
Painter NameThomas Gainsborough
Completion Date1770
Size177.8 cm × 112.1 cm (70.0 in × 44.1 in)
Current LocationHuntington Library San Marino California

The Blue Boy is a painting by the English painter Thomas Gainsborough who was an expert in portraits and landscapes. The painting is suggested to be mainly a costume study, as it includes a very detailed depiction of boy’s clothing.

The Blue Boy Analysis

Boy is standing in the popular style of contrapposto used from the time of renaissance. He seems determined and confident in his stance. His one hand holds a plumed hat popular in 18th century while the on the other hand kept on the waist hangs a cape-like clothe. He is clothed in shiny, silky clothing. In the background is a big mountain slope with trees. Similarly dark sky seems surrounds the boy’s body in the romanticism style. Artist’s expertise at the landscape and portraits is infused beautifully to create an astonishing impression.

As mentioned above, the painting was supposed to be a costume study. Thus, painter has depicted the clothes with great attention and details including every crease. The shoes has some decorative cloth-flowering which was normal during the time. Even little boys under the age of 8 wore girly frocks and dresses as the main attire. Though, in today’s standards, it wouldn’t be considered as a macho thing.

Shift from Femininity to Masculinity

As mentioned above, little boys under the age of eight regularly wore dresses and there wasn’t much difference between a boy and a girl’s attire. A boy would wear ‘manly’ clothes only after the ceremony of breeching is attained. Thus, boys looked more feminine during the time.

Here in the painting, we see a shift from the feminine attire to more masculine appearance. There are clear markers to support this interpretation.

The overcoat, cape in hand, man-leggings (over the knees) and man-stockings (under the knees) are all wore by men. Though, the flowered-shoes somewhat resembles to girly attire. Moreover, the leggings and stockings were both also worn by women.

The shift is shown through the confident stance of the boy and the plumed hat. Plumed hat was considered a masculine item during the time. Many people wore them. The reason was the feathers which were worn on the hat when a man does some significant work in the society.

Also, the boy is at the age where he leaves his childhood behind and goes forward to be a man. Thus, this full length portrait could be called as a symbol of shift from the femininity to masculinity.

Connection with Pinkie

The Blue Boy’s association with another portrait Pinkie by Sir Thomas Lawrence is described in detail on the painting “Pinkie’s” post.

The painting came out as influence to many artists including Robert Rauschenberg who got inspired to paint after contemplating at this beautiful piece of art. Currently, this life-size painting rests in Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


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