On January 25, 2022, the painting will to go on view in London’s National Gallery, in Trafalgar Square, not far from where it was exhibited 100 years earlier. In the years since, the work has resided in San Marino, California, where it is currently displayed by its current owner, the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
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At the National Gallery, The Blue Boy will go on view near a grouping of paintings by 17th-century Flemish artist Anthony Van Dyck, in attempt to map that artist’s influence on Gainsborough, who was active in the second-half of the 18th century. It will remain on view in London until May 15. Gabriele Finaldi, director of the National Gallery, called the loan “truly exceptional” in a statement.
When The Blue Boy was sold to the American railway baron Henry Edwards Huntington in 1922, there was a massive outcry in Britain—many believed the country had lost a national treasure. The painting sold for $778,000 (or about $9.29 million today), making it the most expensive artwork ever sold at the time. Joseph Duveen, who engineered the sale to Huntington, has since gone down in history as one of the greatest art dealers ever. Some 90,000 people came to bid farewell to the painting in the final three weeks that it was displayed publicly in London.
The Blue Boy is one of the greatest works of 18th-century British art. Gainsborough painted it in response to his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds’s conviction that cool colors only be used to support warm colors. The painting became an instant success, and to this day, it remains famous.
Karen R. Lawrence, president of the Huntington, said in a statement, “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.”
This is the first time the piece has been on loan, and it is unlikely that the work—a cornerstone of the Huntington’s collection—will travel again anytime soon.