The Huntington Library acquired The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough in 1921, and it has graced the walls of the Library as one of it’s crown jewels ever since. The piece has never been loaned or taken out of view for an extended period of time, and the only exception was made in 2017 when the Huntington took the painting down for 3 months to assess overdue restoration needs.
During this time they discovered that the many layers of varnish that had been added to the painting over the years has both dulled and yellowed the work, reducing its visual clarity. Additionally, in some areas the paint began to lift and flake. Even more troubling, the canvas has developed some structural issues and began to separate from its support lining.
In addition to the foundation’s grant which is part of the Getty’s “Conserving Canvas” initiative, the library has also received underwriting support from Bank of America to launch a year-long, multi-phase conservation effort to restore the Huntington’s treasured painting.
This transparency will lift the veil of conservation, exposing visitors to the complexities and intricacies of the practice.
Using advanced imaging processes that include X-Ray technology, Infrared Reflectography, UV illumination and surgical microscopes, the conservation team has revealed some unique characteristics of this iconic painting. Over the years they have discovered a number of hidden features of the canvas including a repaired tear and a fluffy brown dog that Gainsborough painted over, turning its paws into stones. We also learned that Gainsborough’s canvas was repurposed from a work featuring the head of an old man. The apparitions from the canvas’ former life become visible using these technological tools.