There was an outcry when it was sold to an overseas buyer in 1922. Now Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy will finally return to its homeland 100 years since it was last seen in the UK.

The oil on canvas will go on display at the National Gallery from January 25 next year, marking an ‘unprecedented’ four-month loan from a gallery in the US.

The portrait, which shows a boy in a blue jacket and pantaloons, was originally unveiled at the Royal Academy in 1770. However, it has been on display at The Huntington in California for the past century after it was sold to the museum’s founder, a railroad tycoon.

The picture has remained influential with references in films such as Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar winner Django Unchained.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, described the portrait as a ‘masterpiece of British art’ and said its return to the London gallery is ‘truly exceptional’ and a ‘unique opportunity for visitors to see Gainsborough at his dazzling best’.

The oil on canvas (pictured) will go on display at the National Gallery from January 25 next year, marking an 'unprecedented' four-month loan from a gallery in the US

The oil on canvas (pictured) will go on display at the National Gallery from January 25 next year, marking an 'unprecedented' four-month loan from a gallery in the US

The oil on canvas (pictured) will go on display at the National Gallery from January 25 next year, marking an ‘unprecedented’ four-month loan from a gallery in the US

He added: ‘Rich in historical resonances, a painting of supreme poise and elegance, The Blue Boy is without doubt a masterpiece of British art.’

Karen R. Lawrence, Huntington president, said: ‘This masterpiece has made an indelible mark on both art history and popular culture, capturing the imaginations of a wide range of audiences.

‘Given The Blue Boy’s iconic status at The Huntington, this is an unprecedented loan, one which we considered very carefully.

‘We hope that this partnership with the National Gallery will spark new conversations, appreciation and research on both sides of the Atlantic.’

Thomas Gainsborough (pictured)  painted in defiance of his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds

Thomas Gainsborough (pictured)  painted in defiance of his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds

Thomas Gainsborough (pictured)  painted in defiance of his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds

The Blue Boy will be part of a free exhibition in Room 46 which will also include a ‘select group of paintings that demonstrate the profound influence of Van Dyck on Gainsborough’s practice and identity’.

Its positioning in the gallery will be apt because Gainsborough is said to have been largely inspired by Van Dyck, and painted The Blue Boy to show off his technical prowess at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1770, where it was to be displayed next to his rivals under the name A Portrait of a Young Gentleman.

By 1798 it was known at The Blue Boy. 

Gainsborough painted it in defiance of his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds’s belief cool colours could only be used to support warm colours.

Sir Joshua had said: ‘It ought, in my opinion, to be indispensably observed, that the masses of light in a picture be always of a warm, mellow colour, yellow, red, or a yellowish white, and that the blue, the grey, or the green colours be kept almost entirely out of these masses, and be used only to support or set off these warm colours; and for this purpose, a small proportion of cold colour will be sufficient.’

The identity of the boy has been under question for centuries, but art historians believe it is Jonathan Buttall, the young son of a wealthy hardware merchant who befriended Gainsborough. 

In 1939, an X-ray of the painting revealed the canvas once held an unfinished depiction of an older man. In 1995 another X-ray found the boy had once been joined by a small dog, which was later covered up by a pile of rocks.     

People looking at the Blue Boy, painted in 1770 by Thomas Gainsborough. The painting is to return to the National Gallery one hundred years to the day since it was last displayed there, the gallery has announced

People looking at the Blue Boy, painted in 1770 by Thomas Gainsborough. The painting is to return to the National Gallery one hundred years to the day since it was last displayed there, the gallery has announced

People looking at the Blue Boy, painted in 1770 by Thomas Gainsborough. The painting is to return to the National Gallery one hundred years to the day since it was last displayed there, the gallery has announced

There was national outcry in Britain when the painting was sold to US railway baron Henry Edwards Huntington in 1922, with many believing a national treasure has been lost.

He paid $778,000, or about $9.29million (£6.7million) today, making it the most expensive artwork that had ever been sold at the time.

Some 90,000 art lovers bid farewell to the painting in the final three weeks of its public display in London, and the then-National director Charles Holmes wrote ‘Au revoir’ on the back in the hope it would one day return. 

Not everyone was sad to see the painting leave Britain, however, with a reporter in the Manchester Guardian claiming ‘it would be a splendid thing if The Blue Boy were to pass into the French national collection,’ because ‘there is very little sign of any interest in France in English art’. 

The painting has never before been loaned for display outside of its US museum and is unlikely ever to be loaned again. 

The National Gallery threw open its doors to visitors in May after 152 days of closure, with strict Covid guidelines in place to allow a safe return.

Leave a Reply

WP Radio
WP Radio
OFFLINE LIVE
%d bloggers like this: