“A Portrait of a Young Gentleman,” a large-scale painting by Los Angeles-born artist Kehinde Wiley and inspired by the iconic “The Blue Boy,” made its world debut Saturday at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, where it was placed on view opposite the recently restored Thomas Gainsborough masterpiece.
The Huntington commissioned Wiley to reconceive its famous painting in a contemporary context in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the purchase of “The Blue Boy” by Henry and Arabella Huntington, the institution’s founders.
Wiley’s work, which will be added to The Huntington’s permanent collection, will be on view through Jan. 3 in the Thornton Portrait Gallery. That same month, Gainsborough’s painting will be transported to London for an exhibition that will open at the National Gallery 100 years to the day it left England for its home in California.
“By adding a work by Kehinde Wiley to our collection and offering it on view in our most lauded gallery of historic art, we are examining our shared history and beginning to curate our future,” said Christina Nielsen, director of the Art Museum at The Huntington.
“I fully expect that Wiley’s portrait will speak to 21st century audiences just as Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy did to its original audience when it was first unveiled in 1770,” she said.
Wiley’s association with The Huntington dates back to his childhood, when his mother enrolled him in art classes and he first viewed the institution’s collection of large-scale portraits of England’s 18th and 19th century noble class, which made a major impression on the budding artist.
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,” according to a statement released by The Huntington.
Wiley, 44, is known for full-length paintings of everyday Black men and women in street clothes, painted in classical poses against vibrant, patterned backgrounds, reminiscent of West African fabrics as well as wallpaper and textile designs by William Morris and Co.
In 2018, Wiley became the first African American artist to paint an official U.S. presidential portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. His portrait of former President Barack Obama will be on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this fall, as part of a national tour.
Wiley’s “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman” was painted in Dakar, Senegal, where his artist-in-residence program is headquartered. According to Nielsen, the artist — who lives and works in Dakar, Beijing and New York — has not publicly revealed the identity of the young man depicted in the colorful painting.