The boy in this portrait was Gainsborough's nephew, the son of his youngest sister, Susanna Gardiner. A late nineteenth-century source tells us that Gardiner 'was constantly in and out of the studio as a boy of twelve'. He is shown here in 'Van Dyck' costume, a fancy dress version of Cavalier attire which it was then fashionable for portrait sitters to wear. It is the same costume, in fact, that was worn by Jonathan Buttall in Gainsborough's famous full-length portrait known as the 'Blue Boy' (Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino, California). It is thought that the artist painted this portrait of Richard Gardiner 'as a trial of colour' before attempting the 'Blue Boy'.