I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Blue Boy and Pinkie

They’re like Romeo and Juliet without the smooching or death. Pinkie and The Blue Boy are from the hallows of the past, yet they’re forever young and intriguing. And they always, always go together.
Reproductions sold on ebay

I never knew why they went together. When I was eight or nine, my great Aunt Dolly gave me mini-copies of the paintings, which I’d seen in stores and on the wall of the Leave it To Beaver house. Dolly issued a warning, almost like a curse:

“Don't separate them. You can’t have one without the other.”

Surely, the subjects of The Blue Boy and Pinkie were painted by the same artist as a set. I mean, check out their names! Blue and Pink must have shared a childhood love. My future romance-author’s mind went  Ca-razy coming up with their story, which dealt with pirates and an old seadog and a HEA.

Alas, the truth of why they are together is far less melodramatic than my musings. And at the same time, the facts behind the portraits are stories in and of themselves.

Stories of the portraits first. The Blue Boy was painted in 1170 by English artist Thomas Gainsborough. He was a popular Georgian-era artist, whose work was sought by many wealthy patrons. 
The Cottage Door - Thomas Gainsborough
Another famous Gainsborough is The Cottage Door
The young man in The Blue Boy is a merchant’s son named Jonathan Buttall (1752-1805), and while it’s a portrait, it’s also a historical costume study, as Jonathan is dressed in 17th-century apparel, thought to be an homage to the work of Anthony van Dyck.
File:Thomas Gainsborough 008.jpg
How dashing!
Jonathan Buttall kept the painting until he filed for bankruptcy in 1796. The painting, which was already admired in England, changed hands several times, until something shocking happened. It was purchased by an American.

Recently, singer Kelly Clarkson purchased a ring once owned by Jane Austen. The hue and cry in Britain compelled Clarkson to sell back the ring, which will now remain in the UK. The British were no less impassioned when American railway pioneer Henry Edwards Huntington bought The Blue Boy around 1922 for $728,000 (something like $8 million now). Before its departure to California, 90,000 visitors came to the National Gallery to bid it farewell, and the Gallery’s director Charles Holmes scrawled “Au Revoir, C.H.” on the back.

And so The Blue Boy went Hollywood. Well, an hour’s drive away from Hollywood, to reside in Huntington’s San Marino mansion (now a museum and library).

But what about Pinkie? Some twenty-four years after The Blue Boy was painted, Pinkie was completed by another popular Georgian-era artist, Sir Thomas Lawrence. 
Lawrence's portrait of The Prince Regent, the future George IV
He painted royalty and nobility, but also took a commission from a woman who wanted to immortalize her eleven-year-old granddaughter, Sarah Goodin Barrett Moulton, aka Pinkie.
File:Pinkie detailed.jpg
She is so lovely!
Sarah was born to a merchant family in Jamaica, 1783. When Sarah was nine, she and her siblings sailed to England to get their educations. In 1793, Sarah’s grandmother wrote to her niece in Surrey, asking her to commission a portrait of ‘my dear little Pinkey … as I cannot gratify myself with the Original, I must beg the favour of You to have her picture drawn at full Length by one of the best Masters, in an easy Careless attitude’.

No doubt the family was very pleased by the portrait.

Tragically, Pinkie passed away a year later, at age twelve. (I know! It’s awful!) The day after her burial, her portrait was displayed in the Royal Academy exhibition, and then returned to the possession of her family. (Cool side note: At one point, it was owned by her brother, Edward, whose daughter was poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)

In 1927, the painting was sold to—guess who? Huntington, who five years earlier had purchased The Blue Boy.  Huntington paired them together, and ta-da! America saw the paintings on displays side-by-side and went crazy for them, putting their images on mass-produced artwork. (Google the images, and you'll see figurines, cross-stitch patterns, and more.)

A few weeks ago, I saw the portraits. They gaze at one another from opposite ends of the gallery. Pinkie is lovelier in person than photos do justice. She is bright and clean, a glimmer of light and youth and beauty. Likewise, The Blue Boy is regal and dashing. I was amazed to see that his buttons and coat trim had the shine of silver in them. The subjects of these paintings are fresh, children posed in elegant dress, against dramatic backdrops, like small adults. They are hopeful and poignant all at once.

I’m not sure what Gainsborough and Lawrence would have thought of the unlikely marriage of their subjects. But it is one that compels the viewer—and stirs the imagination—even after two hundred years.

1 comment:

J.Grace said...

Interesting post and beautiful paintings.

I am always fascinated how artists can capture details and textures on canvas so precisely.