Sunday, August 22, 2010

We’re constantly bombarded with information…stimulus. Some of it we take in, some we discard.

When I was a child I had very little interest in history except what came out of my grandmother’s room. My grandmother, my adopted mother’s mother, lived with us while I was growing up. Her name was a classic southern one…Minnie Lee Hess. She had a room off the eastern corner of our house and rarely moved from her bed.

When I was bored I would often gravitate to my grandmother’s room and snoop. Well, fair was fair, as when ever she did get out of her bed it was typically to spy on me and my goings on.

There were two main articles of interest in that room for me. A large trunk containing the personal effects of her deceased husband whom she called “Pops,” who fought in the Spanish-American war and a small portrait on the south wall of her room, which she told me was called, “The Blue Boy.”

It was difficult to snoop in her trunk since she had a lot of stuff piled on top of it and it was locked, the lock only opened by a screwdriver or other flat object. So, the only times I was able to snoop in her trunk was when she would take a trip with her sister Mildred.

The other times I would walk into her room and stare for long periods of time at the portrait of her Blue Boy. I don’t know why, particularly, as I surely was not a budding art fanatic, but I just loved looking at that portrait.

It was years and years after her death and the death of my adopted mother when the house was donated to the local Grandview Baptist Church, all the contents included. I never saw that portrait or the trunk again.

Then roughly two or three weeks ago I was at work at C-Bright Language School and saw a Xeroxed copy of an article about that very portrait…The Blue Boy. I briefly scanned it and then made a mental note to research the portrait more completely on the Internet once I got home.

I found that the portrait was painted by Thomas Gainsborough circa 1770, and considered Gainsborough’s most famous work. It is thought to be a portrait of Jonathan Buttall, the son of a wealthy hardware merchant of the time, although this was never proved.

The blue apparel on the boy was typical seventeenth century apparel and was regarded as Gainsborough’s homage to Anthony Van Dyck, another artist of the time, who painted a portrait of Charles II as a boy. Gainsborough’s oil painting is said to be startlingly similar to Van Dyck’s portrait.

Like many paintings, the portrait made it’s rounds…from the possession of Jonathan Buttall, the son of the wealthy hardware merchant, to politician John Nesbitt, and eventually by 1802, artist John Hoppner.

It currently resides in Huntington Library, San Marino, California.



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