The Blue Boy
Kehinde Wiley's A Portrait of a Young Gentleman
In 2021, the newly commissioned painting by renowned American artist Kehinde Wiley, A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, debuted in the Thornton Portrait Gallery, across from Thomas Gainsborough's The Blue Boy (ca. 1770). Inspired by The Blue Boy, and using the same title that Gainsborough originally used for his painting, Wiley’s Portrait of a Young Gentleman is a large-scale work in the Grand Manner style. Wiley has long talked about the role The Huntington played in his formative years as an artist growing up in Los Angeles. When he was young, his mother enrolled him in art classes at The Huntington, where he encountered a formidable collection of British Grand Manner portraits—monumental depictions of England’s 18th- and 19th-century noble class. The portraits made such an impression on Wiley that he would later incorporate their stylistic representations of wealth, glory, and power into his own artistic practice, focusing on the Black and brown bodies missing from the museums he visited.
The Blue Boy Goes to London
In 2022, The Huntington lent its iconic "Blue Boy" to the National Gallery in London for an exhibition exactly 100 years after Gainsborough’s masterpiece left London for California. The four-month exhibition ran from Jan. 25–May 3, 2022 before the painting returned home to The Huntington permanently. The Blue Boy is back on view in the Thornton Portrait Gallery in the Huntington Art Gallery.
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.
Who is The Blue Boy, and why is the painting so important?
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.
Infrared reflectography, x-radiography, and ultraviolet light were used to reveal clues about The Blue Boy's history.
The Atlantic takes readers inside the massive, two-year museum effort to conserve The Blue Boy, Thomas Gainsborough's famed 18th-century portrait.
X-rays of 'Blue Boy' and 'Pinkie' and other British masterpieces reveal ghost images and the choices the artists made while painting.
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.
So The Blue Boy is a big deal. But what’s the story behind the famous painting’s frame?