Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




A Question of Class

English society in the eighteenth century



A Youth to Fortune

   and to Fame unknown...

Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard, 1751



Who was the young man who sat for Thomas Gainsborough's The Blue Boy! His identity was unknown for nearly two centuries. Recent research suggests that he was Jonathan Buttall, the teenage son of a rich London ironmonger. Gainsborough is thought to have made the family's acquaintance in Bath. The city in south-west England was renowned throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as a fashionable spa where affluent English families went to drink the healing waters of its springs.

The ultimate in elegant watering-places, Bath was even frequented by members of the royal family when they felt jaded. Visitors to the baths were subjected to a severe regimen. Forced to get up at six in the morning, women spent an hour in the warm water of the baths dressed in long garments made of heavy material that could not cling to their bodies and reveal their contours. Men, too, bathed fully dressed. Outside the baths, the city was the place for flirtations, balls and evening card parties. There were many official functions like the Assembly-Rooms Balls and places both indoors and out where people promenaded for the purpose of meeting and keeping up with the latest goings-on. Gambling was rife and the city boasted the dubious attractions of a bevy of demimondaines to charm away the boredom of gentlemen who were not in Bath with their families. Women had to content themselves with gossip over the tea table.

The city seethed with intrigue, which is why Horace Walpole remarked it was ten times better to leave the city than to enter it. The rich visitors tended to be vain and ostentatious. This was probably the reason why the young Thomas Gainsborough left Ipswich in the east of England to settle in Bath in 1759. The move paid off. Showered with portrait commissions from wealthy patrons, the painter was soon able to afford luxurious apartments in the beautiful and elegant Royal Circus.

However, the resort was not merely the haunt of the aristocracy. It was just as popular with rich tradesmen's and manufacturers' families. From 1750 English iron foundries and cotton mills had been flourishing and their owners could well afford to take the waters at Bath. One can imagine Gainsborough meeting Mr Buttall, the ironmonger, and his family at the Pump Room. Gains-borough had begun his career by copying and restoring Flemish paintings. It is therefore not surprising that he borrowed stylistic elements from the works of Anthony van Dyck to paint Jonathan Buttall, who is dressed in the fashion of the seventeenth century.


Thomas Gainsborough
The Blue Boy


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