Saturday, April 23, 2016

Pinkie and Blue Boy ~ A Matched Set?

by Debra Brown

58 1/4 x 40 1/4 in. (148 x 102.2 cm.)
Oil on Canvas
The Huntington Library,
Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
The Blue Boy
70 5/8 x 48 3/4 in. (179.4 x 123.8 cm.)
Oil on Canvas
 The Huntington Library,
Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Pinkie hangs opposite The Blue Boy in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, USA. Seeing copies from time to time as I drifted through life, I imagined they were a matched set--perhaps siblings or cousins. Did you?

In fact, they were painted about 24 years apart by two different artists. How lovely for us that Pinkie turns to our right and the Boy to the left, and hanging together they make a wondrous, harmonious pairing.

Titled Sarah Barrett Moulton: Pinkie by the museum, the eleven year old girl's portrait was done by Thomas Lawrence in 1794. The portrait has atmosphere and motion with the storm blowing her gown and ribbons to the left.

Detail of  Pinkie, picture reversed
Sarah Goodin Barrett Moulton, called Pinkie or Pinkey by her family, was born on 22 March 1783, in Little River, St. James, Jamaica. Hersey Barrett, a maternal ancestor, had arrived in Jamaica with Oliver Cromwell's forces in 1655. The family became wealthy landowners, slave owners, and exporters of sugar cane and rum.

By 1789 Sarah's father, Charles Moulton, had left his family. She and her siblings were raised by her mother and the Barrett family. Sarah and two brothers sailed to England in 1792 to continue their educations. Sarah attended Mrs Fenwick's school at Flint House, Greenwich, as did other children from Jamaican colonial families.

Sarah's grandmother in Jamaica, Judith Barrett, wrote to a niece living in Richmond, Surrey, to commission a portrait of her 'dear little Pinkey'. We can be grateful, for Sarah died the following year. The painting was displayed in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1795 which opened the day after her burial. It remained in the family until 1910, at one time a possession of her brother Edward, the father of the poetess and writer Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It was sold for 74,000 guineas in 1926, the highest price ever paid for a painting at auction at that date.

Thomas Lawrence, painter-in-ordinary to George III, was charging 160 guineas for a full length portrait at the time, though we do not know the amount Sarah's grandmother paid for Pinkie.

Thought to be perhaps Thomas Gainsborough's (1727–1788) most famous work, The Blue Boy is possibly a portrait of Jonathan Buttall (1752–1805), the son of a wealthy hardware merchant who owned property in the City of London and Ipswich, Suffolk. Gainsborough was working in Ipswich in the 1750s, and the Buttall family may have met him there. The artist shared a love of music and formed a friendship with the young Jonathan whom he asked to be present at his funeral.

In 1768 Jonathan inherited his father's business and was considered "an immensely rich man," but in 1796 bankruptcy forced him to auction off much property including The Blue Boy and other paintings by Gainsborough. Buttall married Mary Jump on March 31, 1798, but no children are mentioned in his will. He died in 1805 from spasms at his house on Oxford Street.

The painting is certainly a study in 17th-Century apparel and regarded as homage to Anthony van Dyck. It was bought from Buttall by the politician John Nesbitt and then came to be in the collections of the portrait painter John Hoppner followed by the Earl Grosvenor and his descendants, the dealer Joseph Duveen and finally, causing a public outcry in Britain, the American railway pioneer Henry Edwards Huntington.

Before heading to California, the painting was put on display briefly at the National Gallery and viewed by 90,000 people. The Gallery's director, Charles Holmes, wrote on the back, "Au Revoir, C.H.".

So, was it typical in those days, as today, for girls to wear pink and boys to wear blue? Actually, author Tom Williams says no. He writes that in 1918, the advice given to American parents was:
“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
While girls obviously wore pink as in the painting above, boys would wear pink coats as a pale imitation of Redcoat uniforms. I think it also interests Americans that British baby boys wear christening gowns. That of litte Prince George is a copy of the one made for Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Vicky. It seems fashion matters can vary for the genders from time to time and place to place.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article by Kate Retford


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Debra Brown cut her teeth on the Bookhouse Books which created a nagging longing to live in a land of castles and wear flowing gowns and headdresses. Though life was busy and full, she eventually became able to do so vicariously through the characters of her books.

Her first published novel, The Companion of Lady Holmeshire (World Castle Publishing, 2011), is set in early Victorian England. Emma, a former servant girl, was chosen as companion to The Countess of Holmeshire and dragged along into polite society where she was sure to receive a rude reception.

Debra's beloved work-in-progress, For the Skylark, is on the back burner but simmering slowly. She runs the English Historical Fiction Authors blog and is an author and co-editor of Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors (Madison Street Publishing, 2013) which will soon be released as an audiobook. Please watch for Volume Two of Castles, Customs, and Kings in the September 2015.

This post is an EHFA Editor's choice. It was first published on November 4, 2014.


  1. Thanks, Debbie. I did indeed assume they were a pair. (Shows I didn't do my research!).

    1. I guess we can't research everything, but it is nice here, picking up bits and pieces every day.

  2. Fascinating post, Debbie! Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Thanks for this, Debbie. My parents had copies of these two paintings hanging in our house for the longest time. Your post has made me nostalgic for earlier times.

    1. I'm sure they did bring a memorable atmosphere to the home. I'd love to have larger copies than what I have, but mine set off my corner fireplace with class. I love portraits and am watching for one more for my living room.

  4. I never knew the history of these, Debbie. I wonder what kind of life Sarah might have had, he's painted her with a lot of character in her face.

    1. Yes, Maggi; it is so sad when a child dies, their life barely begun. She was just twelve.

  5. I remember reading (a swift check of Wikipedia bears it out) that Gainsborough painted the 'Blue Boy' as a riposte to Joshua Reynolds' view that large expanses of blue, a 'cold' colour, were not desirable in paintings, except to set off warmer reds or yellows. I'm inclined to think that Gainsborough argues his (unspoken) case rather well.

  6. I had copies of these paintings on my walls as young girl. Thanks for the explanations.


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