The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough, 1770 (Huntington Library, San Marino, California)
Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), considered one of the most important British artists of the second half of the 18th century, was also one of England’s earliest “homegrown” geniuses. A boy prodigy, largely self-taught, witty, convivial, musical, Gainsborough was widely known and admired for his fluid handling of paint in his portraits and landscapes. In contrast to his professional “rival,” Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was the first President of the Royal Academy, Gainsborough was anti-academic in attitude.
After a decade in Bath, garnering a wide clientele among spa visitors, Gainsborough relocated to London to compete with Reynolds head-on. The two giants dominated portrait painting in the 1770s and 1780s. Gainsborough enjoyed the patronage of a varied clientele, including musicians, actresses, artists, the aristocracy, and the royal family. Later, the purchase of the iconic Blue Boy (1770) and other Gainsborough works by some notoriously wealthy Americans—dubbed robber barons—helped make him a household name in the United States.
Art historian Bonita Billman examines the career and lush painterly technique of Thomas Gainsborough, his iconic masterworks (especially those in America), and his influence on painting.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*
*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.