The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens announced Tuesday that it will loan British artist Thomas Gainsborough’s masterpiece, “The Blue Boy,” for an exhibition next year in London, marking the first time the painting has been loaned since its purchase a century ago.
The Jan. 25 opening of the free exhibition at the National Gallery in London will mark 100 years to the day since the painting last hung on the walls there, officials said. The exhibition will run through May 3.
“This masterpiece has made an indelible mark on both art history and popular culture, capturing the imaginations of a wide range of audiences,” said Karen R. Lawrence, The Huntington’s president. “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.”
In exchange for the loan, a work from the National Gallery’s collection will be sent to The Huntington for display.
The museum’s founder, railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington, bought the Gainsborough painting in 1921 for $728,000 — a record price for a painting at the time.
Before bringing the British treasure to San Marino, art dealer Joseph Duveen organized an international publicity campaign that made the painting more famous than ever. It was the art centerpiece of the museum when it opened in 1928, a year after Huntington died, and has remained so.
The iconic painting’s first owner, aristocrat Jonathan Buttall (1752-1805), was once thought to be the model for the painting, but the identity of the famed work’s subject remains unknown.
In 2018, The Huntington launched a restoration project dubbed “Project Blue Boy” to conserve the masterpiece, which depicts a lifesize image of a young man in a blue satin suit created around 1770 by Gainsborough.
The painting has been on almost constant display since The Huntington opened to the public and required conservation to address both structural and visual concerns.
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