One of the Huntington Library’s most instantly recognizable emblem, Thomas Gainsborough’s masterpiece “The Blue Boy,” returned home Saturday following a five-month visit to its land of origin.
One hundred years after Henry Huntington purchased “The Blue Boy” from the Duke of Westminster, it went on display at the National Gallery in London. The free exhibition went from Jan. 25 through May 3, its opening date marking to the day 100 years since it last hung on the walls there.
On Saturday, it returned to little fanfare. When the Huntington opened at 10 a.m., there was just one patron inside the Thornton Portrait Gallery, where “The Blue Boy” was recentlyreturned for display.
Elliott, a college professor from the Midwest who was visiting the famed institution as part of a business trip, dropped by to see his old friend. Elliott asked that he remain otherwise anonymous but he was transparent about his appreciation for both “The Blue Boy” as wellas Gainsborough. Elliott had visited the iconic painting during its tenure in London and was not previously aware that he was the first to welcome it back to San Marino.
“Gainsborough is extremely underrated,” said Elliott. “His painting has an inner life, an inner vitality. There is a life there. You can see the electrons behind his subject’s eyes. Like Rembrandt and Titian, the finished product escapes the painter’s preordaining.”
Elliott commented that “The Blue Boy’s” permanent residence overshadowed the gallery where it was displayed in London, which he said was “small and crowded.”
“It lives much more in this space,” he added.
The Huntington’s gift shop featured additional Blue Boy memorabilia that included books and even a decorative ornament.
The recent loan to the National Gallery followed “Project Blue Boy,” a nearly three-year conservation project to completely analyze, clean and restore the 5 foot, 10 inch by 3 foot, 8 inch oil portrait that was created in 1770. Much of the conservation work was performed in public to provide visitors with a window into the art and science of the conservation practice.
In closing, Elliott said that his only wish was that the general public gain an increased appreciation for Gainsborough’s work.
“He belongs in the pantheon that includes the absolute greatest painters in history,” he said. “Gainsborough has a mystery, an aloofness, that I believe displays a respect and understanding that he cannot confidently recreate what he is seeing. But the truth is, that of course he can.”