Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, English painting was one of the most prominent in all of Europe, and while it is true that countless artists continue to stand out on the continent who, under the new trends, promoted continental art, It is in the British Isles that important works by painters who took British painting to its maximum expression now appear more than ever before. In an earlier stage, painters who came from Europe such as Holbein or even Gentileschi had created great works for English painting, however now it is English artists who will dominate the pictorial panorama being able to highlight such notable figures like Turner, Constable or even one of the great portrait painters of all time, Gainsborough.
Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) was born into a modest family, however his drawing skills impressed his father and when he was only thirteen years old the young man moved to the English capital to start his painting studies. There he studied in the workshops of Gravelot and Hogarth, however his greatest influence was the painting of Van Dyck that the artist was able to discover thanks to the intercession of Gravelot. Gainsborough had numerous successes throughout his career and attempted to unify the genre of portraiture with landscape painting; however, it will be precisely in the genre of the portrait ofwhere the artist gets his biggest and most convincing hits.
The work that concerns us here is perhaps one of the most outstanding portraits of him, Young Blue. It is a work done in oil on canvas, a large vertical format painting that measures almost one hundred and eighty centimeters in height and just over one hundred and ten centimeters in width, dimensions that are too large for a canvas intended for portraiture that make us suppose that the artist had to reuse the support of some previous composition.
In the foreground the artist presents us with the young man represented, an adolescent boy who has often been identified with the son of a prosperous merchant, Jonathan Buttall, but who in reality has never been fully demonstrated. The boy is depicted full-length, dressed in gallant blue and white satin robes. The special attention with which the artist has depicted the boy's dress and its tactile quality allows us to see the influence that Van Dyck had on Gainsborough.. With his chin slightly tilted and his eyes fixed on the viewer, the young man shows us a defiant gesture, reminding us of his prominent social position.
Light falls on the young man depicted while the natural background in which Gainsborough has placed the portrait remains in shadow. Natural images with a mountainous background dominate the composition while a dark and cloudy sky portends thunderstorms.