|Bumper, 1745, Thomas Gainsborough|
|Blue Boy, 1770,|
|The Villers Brothers, 1635,|
Anthony van Dyck
At the age of 19, Thomas Gainsborough met and married a Miss Margaret Burr, a strikingly beautiful young girl believed to have been the illegitimate daughter of the wealthy Duke of Beaufort. With his wife came a dowry in the form of a yearly annuity of two hundred pounds at a time when a skilled artisan usually earned less then fifty pounds a year. As a result, Gainsborough gained an enviable degree of independence that was to have a marked effect on the work of the amiable, lighthearted, young artist. He could afford to experiment, to improvise, and if the portrait client was too demanding, to turn down the commission. Unlike his artistic rival, Sir Joshua Reynolds, he painted for the love of art, rather than for political or economic purposes. His most famous painting, his Blue Boy, painted in 1770, is loosely based upon a Van Dyck portrait of the Villers brothers, foster sons of Charles II. Preliminary drawings indicate he combined the pose of the two boys into the one in depicting the sensitive, elegantly dressed teenager in his painting. For years the identity of the setter was unknown. It is now believed to be Jonathan Buttal, the son of a rich hardware dealer. They remained friends for life. The young man was one of the few named on a short list of those Gainsborough wished to attend his funeral when he died in 1788.