Monday, June 14, 2010


Suddenly, there she stands - the glorious and exuberant “Pinkie.” And the longer I remain at the foot of her portrait, the lighter my heart becomes as I soak in the joy of the moment.

Here is the little girl on the verge of womanhood. Her lustrous shell-colored satin bonnet trails matching ribbons that fly in the wind. She is at once casual and elegant. Childlike and mature, as any 11 year-old might appear to be.

Even if you’ve seen a print of this oil you might not have caught the soft delicate shades the artist brushed into the original oil. Photos and color plates often show the clouds as menacing and dark – they’re not. Some prints show them tinged with red and orange – they are not that either. Instead, the fragile blue and frothy white clouds dance and shimmer in lively strokes that caress the canvass.

A bright breeze blows the diaphanous cream-colored fabric of her gown aside to expose the pointed toe of her little black shoe. The visual pun of her extended little “pinkie” finger is amusing but the gesture is a natural part of her casual pose.

This is a portrait of Sarah Barrett Moulton by Thomas Lawrence (1794). She was a member of the prosperous Barrett family from Jamaica. Did you know she is related to the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning? Her brother Edward was the poet’s father, and Sarah would have been Elizabeth’s aunt - had she lived. Sadly, she died within the year.

“Pinkie” is often thought of in tandem with Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy”. Yet two different artists painted them some 24 years apart. For me “Pinkie” is the crown jewel of the vast collections of rare books, immense gardens and art at The Huntington in Pasadena, California.

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