Conservation & Preservation

Blue Boy takes a well-earned break ahead of treatment

The painting has rarely gone off display at the museum since its opening in 1928—until now

The Blue Boy (aournd 1770), by Thomas Gainsborough The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy (around 1770) is one of the star attractions at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. Consequently, the painting has rarely gone off display at the museum since its opening in 1928. In August, however, the painting was taken down for a three-month examination ahead of a major two-year technical analysis and conservation treatment. Part of the conservation will take place in one of the museum’s public galleries in a special exhibition called Project Blue Boy, due to open in autumn 2018.

According to Christina O’Connell, the senior paintings conservator at the Huntington, recent treatments have focused on adding layers of varnish so the picture could remain on display. This has obscured some details and caused the colours to “appear hazy and dull”. The forthcoming treatment and examination aims to restore the colours’ vibrancy, address support issues and flaking paint, and hopefully gain insight into the English artist’s process.

The public can follow the project, funded by Bank of America, online at

Appeared in The Art Newspaper, 293 September 2017