Gainsborough’s Blue Boy




On the centenary of its last public appearance in the UK, The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough returns to the National Gallery. The work is now owned by the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California where it has been on display for the past century.

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. He 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 (1599–1641), working some 100 years earlier.

The free exhibition in Room 46 will see The Blue Boy shown alongside a select group of paintings that demonstrate Gainsborough’s ongoing interest in Van Dyck’s paintings, particularly in regard to colour and composition. Van Dyck popularised the ‘grand manner’ of full-length portraiture in Britain, and by the 18th century, he epitomised the height of artistic achievement: a ‘celebrity’ painter honoured by the royal family and known for his extraordinary ability. He was also popular among Gainsborough’s patrons, who often donned ‘Van Dyck’ costume, like the sitter in The Blue Boy, to pose for portraits. Gainsborough aspired to such a reputation and sought to understand Van Dyck’s painterly technique, making several copies after the earlier artist’s work. By referencing Van Dyck, Gainsborough deliberately established himself in this great lineage of European artists.

Duration 25 January 2022 - 15 May 2022
Times daily 10am–6pm and Friday until 9pm
Cost Free - advance booking required
Venue National Gallery
Address Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN
Contact 2077472885 / information@ng-london.org.uk / www.nationalgallery.org.uk

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