Pinkie and the Blue Boy
It’s the classic boy meets girl story. Married by a curator/collector in 1927 resulting in a relationship cemented by sentimentalism; Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy 1770 and Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie 1794 have been eternally entwined in the collective consciousness of the wigs and keys crowd since the early twentieth century. They are the subjects of endless reproductions, porcelain figurines, commemorative plates and all manner of kitsch. Two youths betrothed to one another by the place they shared on a museum wall. The girl in pink and the boy in blue; how perfect is that?
The truth of the matter is, that is a very twentieth century construct. Pink and blue were worn by both genders for centuries. For the longest time blue was actually more thought of with girls due to its association with The Virgin Mary. The gender/colour denomination was more of a marketing gimmick than anything; created by savvy ad men between the world wars. Gainsborough even painted a Pink Boy in 1782. (Both the Pink Boy and the Blue Boy are wearing costumes modeled after the clothing that could be typically found in the portraits of Anthony Van Dyck from the 1630’s and 40’s.) The Blue Boy was actually green when it came into the possession of H.E.H Huntington in 1921. The painting had discoloured under coats of a golden varnish over the decades since it had been painted. The layers were lovingly removed, revealing the brilliant blues we are familiar with today.
Over the years, Pinkie and the Blue Boy found their way into the homes of countless families. They were the perfect middle-class adornment. They represented a sense of nostalgia, romanticism with just a whiff of culture. They played into traditional gender roles and fifties family values as evidenced by their inclusion in Leave it to Beaver. In the episode pictured above, Wally is asking permission to grow a mustache and Mrs Cleaver has just removed her apron and hid it in the couch when company arrives. It doesn’t get any more gender stereotypical than that. I wonder what the Cleavers would make of the fact that Jonathon Buttall (Blue Boy) was fatherless and Sarah Moulton ( Pinkie) was the daughter of Jamaican plantation owners. Probably nothing, their histories remain invisible. These paintings have crossed over from portraits of real people to decorative pictures.
Truth be told, The Blue Boy is a far superior painting than Pinkie and it seems almost unbelievable that people can misconstrue the idea that they were painted by the same artist. I guess it is a more romantic notion to think they were made for each other. The countless second rate reproductions out there help to level the playing field considerably. Nothing takes an artist down a notch or two like being the loving subject of a flea market TV tray. As tacky as these objects may seem, there is still something endearing about them that cuts through the kitsch. We do enjoy our matching sets and it’s nice to think that there is someone out there for everyone.