The Blue Boy
Thomas Gainsborough's (1727–1788) iconic painting first appeared in public in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1770 as A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, where it received high acclaim, and by 1798 it was being called "The Blue Boy"—a nickname that stuck. Henry E. Huntington (1850–1927) purchased The Blue Boy in 1921 for $728,000, the highest price ever paid for a painting at the time. By bringing a British treasure to the United States, Huntington imbued an already well-known image with even greater notoriety on both sides of the Atlantic. But beyond its cultural significance, the painting is considered a masterpiece of artistic virtuosity. Gainsborough's command of color and mastery of brushwork are on full display in the painting, even more apparent as a result of the conservation and restoration of this priceless portrait in the 18-month intiative and exhibition, "Project Blue Boy."
Project Blue Boy
In 2017, conservators began a preliminary analysis of The Blue Boy using a range of imaging techniques. This was followed in 2018 by "Project Blue Boy," a restoration project that offered visitors a glimpse into the technical process of conserving one of Gainsborough's finest works. During the public phase of the project, visitors were able to interact with The Huntington's senior paintings conservator Christina O'Connell while she worked to conserve the painting in-gallery. Now off view for final inpainting, varnish, technical study, supportive backing, and framing adjustment, the project concludes on March 26, 2020, with the restored Blue Boy returning to its original place in the Thornton Portrait Gallery.
More About The Blue Boy
The Blue Boy undergoes its first major technical examination and conservation treatment in public view, in a special satellite conservation studio set up in the west end of The Huntington's grand portrait gallery. Watch
Science journalist Usha Lee McFarling sat down with Christina O'Connell, paintings conservator for Project Blue Boy, and John House, ear surgeon of the House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles, as they talked over the project.
The Atlantic takes readers inside the massive, two-year museum effort to conserve The Blue Boy, Thomas Gainsborough's famed 18th-century portrait. More
Senior paintings conservator Christina O'Connell goes "eye to eye" with The Huntington's most famous painting with the help of a Hi-R NEO 900 Haag-Streit surgical microscope, on loan from Haag-Streit USA. Watch
X-rays of 'Blue Boy' and 'Pinkie' and other British masterpieces reveal ghost images and the choices the artists made while painting. More
Huntington art curators Catherine Hess and Melinda McCurdy unveil Blue Boy & Co., a 179-page book highlighting the richness and diversity of The Huntington’s European collection. More