The Blue Boy  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Blue Boy (c. 1770) is an oil painting by Thomas Gainsborough that now resides in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. The painting itself is on a fairly large canvas for a portrait that measures 48 inches wide by 70 inches tall. Perhaps Gainsborough's most famous work, it is thought to be a portrait of Jonathan Buttall, the son of a wealthy hardware merchant. Gainsborough had originally painted something different on the canvas but then decided to paint the portrait of the blue boy over it. It is a historical costume study as well as a portrait: the youth in his 17th-century apparel is regarded as Gainsborough's homage to Anthony Van Dyck, and in particular is very close to Van Dyck's portrait of Charles II as a boy (below).

It has been said that Gainsborough painted the portrait mainly to prove to his chief rival Joshua Reynolds that it was possible to use blue as the central color of a portrait, but this statement has been discredited: the rumor began circulating after Gainsborough's death and Reynolds had painted portraits in blue long before.Template:Fact

The painting was in Jonathan Buttall's possession until he filed for bankruptcy in 1796. It was bought first by the politician John Nesbitt and then, in 1802, by the portrait painter John Hoppner. In about 1809 The Blue Boy entered the collection of the Earl Grosvenor and remained with his descendants until its sale by the second Duke of Westminster to the dealer Joseph Duveen in 1921. In a move that caused a public outcry in Britain, it was then sold on to the American railway pioneer Henry Edwards Huntington for $182,200 (then a record price for any painting) (According to a mention in the New York Times, dated Nov. 11, 1921, the purchase price was $640,000). Before its departure to California in 1922, The Blue Boy was briefly put on display at the National Gallery where it was seen by 90,000 people; the Gallery's director Charles Holmes was moved to scrawl "Au revoir" on the back of the painting.

Appearances in popular culture

  • Cole Porter's 1922 song "Blue Boy Blues", lamenting the Blue Boy's fate, was composed shortly after the painting was sold to Huntington.
  • In the 1929 Laurel and Hardy short Wrong Again, the pair learn that a reward is being offered for The Blue Boy, which they believe to be not a painting but rather a prize horse at the stable where they work. Hilarity ensues as they attempt to deposit the horse at the home of the painting's wealthy owner.
  • In the 1989 film Batman, the painting is at the base of the staircase in Gotham City's Flugelheim Museum. It is visible as The Joker dances up the stairs, and one of his minions spray paints over it.
  • In Die Another Day (2002), James Bond manages to slice through the painting with a sword whilst sparring.
  • In Cinderella III (2007) Gus appears dressed as the Blue Boy in a painting in the end credits.
  • In issues #4 and #8 of Darwyn Cooke's relaunch of Will Eisner's acclaimed comic series The Spirit, the central character is referred to as "Gainsborough" multiple times by supporting character Silk Satin as The Spirit's costume is primary blue.
  • In the twenty-fifth episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Blue Boy takes part in a strike of paintings, where "Gainsborough's Blue Boy's brought out the eighteenth-century English portraits, the Flemish School's solid, and the German woodcuts are at a meeting now."
  • On a 2001 episode of the gameshow "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" a contestant was asked what item the subject of The Blue Boy was holding for the $500,000 question. The correct answer of course was "a hat". After narrowing down the answers to "a hat" and "a lute", the contestant correctly answered with "a hat" to win the half million dollars.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Blue Boy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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