Bringing Back Beloved Painting from Brink of Disaster

Conservation Rescue Mission to Save a Masterpiece

Conservation rescue mission on The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough, 1770, portrait painting
The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough, detail, 1770, portrait painting

It’s all blue in the art world of late. Crayola unveiled its latest bluetiful hue. Blue also means, hopefully, sweet success in the conservation world as the Huntington Library launches a two-year intensive restoration of Thomas Gainsborough’s beloved pre-teen idol portrait painting, The Blue Boy.

Groundbreaking Science

Painted in 1770, the portrait is definitely showing its age, which is why the museum has decided to embark on this conservation rescue mission.  Senior paintings conservator of the Huntington Christina O’Connell leads the efforts. The two-year conservation plans will be groundbreaking with cutting edge practices. It also gets a not-so-secret “secret mission” code name to boot: Project Blue Boy.

Due for Some Love

Much of The Blue Boy‘s lifespan has been spent in the public eye. Close to 250 years of the limelight has taken its toll. The edges of the painting’s canvas are raw and threadbare. O’Connell’s first step was to remove the painting’s frame, then take material samples. What has now commenced is an intense three-month period of scientific analysis. That will be followed by the outlining of the specifics of the treatment plan. That will take about 10 months to determine. Then several more months of actual work on the painting itself will take place.

On View or No?

Meanwhile the painting will go on and off display as needed. O’Connell stresses that she wants to keep the beloved painting available for viewing as much as possible. What’s especially exciting about the restoration is that much of it will be done in the museum’s public gallery, on full display for visitors to see.

American Mona Lisa

In 2019, the plan is for the fully restored Blue Boy to go back on display. The date marks the 100th anniversary of The Huntington’s charter. With canvas issues, lining separation and multiple layers of old varnish, there’s a lot to tackle. But the American Mona Lisa aka The Blue Boy is in one of the top art conservation facilities in the world. So it’s probably only a matter of time until he’s back in action.


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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.