The Blue Boy (1779) is a full-length portrait in oil by Thomas Gainsborough, now in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. It is thought to be a portrait of Jonathan Buttall (1752–1805), the son of a wealthy hardware merchant, although this has never been proven.
- The Blue Boy was an homage to sir Anthony Van Dyck – In painting The Blue Boy at some point around 1770, Gainsborough borrowed more than the regal-yet-relaxed look that the 17th century Flemish painter achieved in his portraits. He also pulled his costume inspiration from Van Dyck’s Portrait of Charles, Lord Strange.
- The Blue Boy was no royal – Art historians debated the identity of this posh-looking lad for centuries. Today’s scholars believe him to be Jonathan Buttall, the young son of an affluent hardware merchant who had befriended Gainsborough.
- The Blue Boy drew rave reviews – Gainsborough had high hopes for the piece’s reception when it debuted in 1770 at the Royal Academy, a prestigious venue that had only opened a year before. He was not disappointed. The incredible play of color and thoughtful brush strokes of The Blue Boy made it an instantly adored hit.
- The blue boy influenced Django Unchained – In the 2012 Quentin Tarantino western, the titular anti-hero doles out bloody vengeance draped in a bright blue suit that looks eerily similar to the one in Gainsborough’s famous work. Costume designer Sharen Davis confirmed this inspiration, telling Vanity Fair, “Quentin had it in the script as powder blue. And I said, ‘I just can’t do that. It is very ’70s, but that’s going to look like polyester no matter what I make it out of.’ I slipped a copy of Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy in the back of the research book. He didn’t say anything, but he saw it. He sort of said later, ‘Oh! Make him look like Blue Boy.'”
- The Blue Boy is quite large – The Blue Boy is essentially life-sized, measuring in 70.0 by 44.1 inches.
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