Other than a picture of my father and I, the only other picture I have of myself on my wall is this cheeky one, taken by the wonderful Gina-Rae Horvath. The inspiration to get it up on the wall came when I found one of the ultimate pieces of art history kitsch, Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy,” in the fanciest metal frame you could want.
Often paired alongside Thomas Lawrence’s “Pinkey” in ‘un-art-educated’ houses, these works have become so common as to be cliché, so I searched out another secondhand fancy frame and paired up with the Blue Boy as a feminist comment as well as an art-history joke.
I thought, let’s update poor Pinkey, poor pink-for-girl blue-for-boy, that wispy thing who looks about to be blown away in her delicate frock, and replace her with some grrrrl.
But then, I looked her up.
She was born in 1783 in Jamaica, to a wealthy slave-owning sugar and rum family. Her father abandoned the family when she was six. When she was nine, her mother sailed back to England with her and her three little brothers so she could attend a ‘proper’ school—a proper British boarding school to make her into a proper young lady—which could not happen in the colonies, it was supposed.
And we know so many improper things happened, at least to the slaves, out there.
Allow me to introduce Sarah Goodin Barrett Moulton, at the age of eleven.
It’s a large name for a little girl who probably missed her hot Jamaican sun, her grandmother, and probably didn’t much like Mrs Fenwick’s School, Flint House, in Greenwich—a cold stone boarding school in damp old England.
A year later she died there, probably of some disease we have all been vaccinated against, in the company other children from Jamaican colonial families, and is buried in the proper English earth in doctor’s vault under the parish church.
The day after that, the painting went on display in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1795.
I don’t know if her grandmother, in Jamaica, ever saw the portrait she asked to be painted of “my dear little Pinkey…as I cannot gratify my self with the Original…’
So much for my educated conceit, art history jokes, kitsch, and cliché.
I confess I knew nothing, know nothing.
It’s dangerous to make a joke about the past, especially during a time of pandemic.
We’ll all be blown away.