Exactly one hundred years ago, ‘The Blue Boy’ permanently left the United Kingdom for the United States after being purchased by rail and property businessman Henry E. Huntington. The National Gallery’s then Director Charles Holmes wrote ‘au revoir’ on the back of the canvas in the hope that it would return one day. Now that dream has come true as the painting has been generously lent to London’s National Gallery for an exceptional free exhibition.
25 January – 15 May 2022
The artist – Thomas Gainsborough
‘The Blue Boy’, painted in 1770
Oil on canvas
179.4 × 123.8 cm
It lives permanently at The Huntington Art Museum, San Marino, California
This spectacular, enigmatic, full-length portrait was created during Gainsborough’s time in Bath (1759–74), a period when the artist’s style and practice changed dramatically in response to his patrons’ tastes and expectations. Gainsborough did not travel abroad, but instead beneﬁtted from studying and copying the works of past masters in prestigious collections, particularly those by the Flemish artist Sir Anthony van Dyck who worked some 100 years earlier.
But who was this exquisitely-dressed Blue Boy?
Many believe him to be Jonathan Buttall, the son of a wealthy hardware merchant and an acquaintance of the artist. He is shown as an aristocrat donning 17th-century cavalier attire with white stockings and blue satin breeches with lavishly gold embroidery.