May 14: Thomas Gainsborough

GainsboroughIt was on this day in 1727 that Thomas Gainsborough was christened, the earliest date we have related to the famed English painter.

Gainsborough’s most famous work is probably The Blue Boy, painted around 1770. It’s believed that the panting is a portrait of Jonathan Buttall, the son of a wealthy hardware merchant, although that’s still a matter of some debate. It is a known fact that Buttall owned the painting until he filed for bankruptcy in 1796 and sold The Blue Boy to pay some of his debts.

So, if The Blue Boy is a late 18th century painting, why is the boy in question depicted in a historical costume? Some art historians believe that the painting is a tribute to 17th century painter Anthony van Dyck, and is a reference to van Dyck’s 1637 portrait The Children of King Charles I of England in which the boy who would grow up to become King Charles II is depicted wearing a similar costume and striking a similar pose. Young Charles II is wearing red, so why is The Blue Boy wearing, well, blue? Well, Gainsborough’s rival Sir Joshua Reynolds’ had recently made the following declaration about the use of light and color in paintings:

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.

So, it seems that Gainsborough didn’t particularly care for Reynolds’ opinion about color because he didn’t just include “the blue, the grey, or the green colours”, he made blue the entire focus of the painting!

There’s a cocktail called Blue Boy, but its name is a bit of a mystery because the drink isn’t actually blue. If anything, this drink’s color is closer to that of the dark shades used by Gainsborough in the background of the painting. Interestingly, it’s essentially a Little Princess that has been given two drops of different kinds of bitters.

Blue Boy

  • 1 ounce Light Rum
  • 3/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • 1 dash Orange Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: A mouse makes his film debut.

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