Project Blue Boy Opens at The Huntington Library

When I was in high school I had a teacher who was super into the arts. He was a bit of a Renaissance man and loved to share his enthusiasm with his students. Unfortunately, much of it fell of deaf ears because…teenagers. But since I was a total nerd I ate it up. One day he told us about this famous painting called The Blue Boy at The Huntington Library and soon we headed there on a field trip to see it ourselves. It was my first visit to the famed institution and I was instantly smitten. In the years since I’ve visited many times and it truly is one of my favorite spots. Today, I was back again to preview Project Blue Boy – an exhibit devoted to that painting I first learned of years ago.

In 1921 Henry and Arabella Huntington purchased the world’s most famous British painting, The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough for a cool $728,000 making it the most expensive painting sold at the time. After a tour around Britain and a brief stop in New York The Blue Boy made his home at the Huntington and he hasn’t left the premises since.

Over the years there were various conservation efforts but the institute always had a dilemma when attempting a major conservation. The Blue Boy is beloved by Huntington visitors and to take him down for an extended length of time would be pretty unpopular. But five years ago the institution developed it’s first in house painting conservation unit and soon plans for a major conservation were underway.

Starting tomorrow, thanks to grant from Bank of America, senior painting conservator Christina O’Connell will embark on a one year conservation and the general public is invited to observe her work for much of the journey.

The Huntington has come up with an ingenious solution to their dilemma – actively conserve the work in special public exhibit called Project Blue Boy. To view a famous work on display can be a wonderful experience but observing that same painting undergoing a major conservation can be equally fascinating. Conservation often occurs behind closed doors so Project Blue Boy is a rare treat, indeed.

To aid visitors in understanding the conservation process there are interactive placards on display detailing various aspects of the process. In addition, there will be regularly scheduled gallery talks to offer further insight into the work being done.

Of course, we are dealing with a work that’s nearly 250 years old so in it’s current state it can’t be displayed around the clock. Instead there will be specific times the process can be viewed – Thursdays and Friday from 10am-12pm and 2-4pm and the first Sunday of each month from 2-4pm. There will also be certain periods when the painting will undergo more extensive work than can be done in the gallery so be sure to check the schedule here.

After viewing The Blue Boy from afar for so long it was fascinating to see it at eye level today. It really offers a new perspective on Gainsborough’s famed work and I can’t wait to see it again once the conservation is complete.


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