A New Frame for The Blue Boy

Posted in museums by Editor on October 30, 2013

Catherine Hess, the chief curator of European art at The Huntington, offers this posting at The Huntington’s blog Verso:

Catherine Hess, “How Do You Frame a Masterpiece?” Verso (24 October 2013).

This digital rendering shows the new frame as it will appear on The Blue Boy after installation in late November.

This digital rendering shows the new frame as it will appear on The Blue Boy after installation in late November 2013.

In 1921, Henry and Arabella Huntington purchased what would become the most famous work of art in their collection: The Blue Boy (1770) by Thomas Gainsborough. Its celebrity rests on many factors, not least of which is the superb quality of the painting, with its brilliant brushwork and the frank earnestness of the boy’s gaze. Its price—at roughly $725,000—was the highest ever paid for a work of art up to that time. The scandal provoked by its departure from Britain also increased its notoriety. The fact that it was exhibited at the National Gallery, London, after the art dealer Joseph Duveen sold it to the Huntingtons further expanded its fame.

So The Blue Boy is a big deal. But what’s the story behind the famous painting’s frame?

When the painting arrived in San Marino, The Blue Boy’s frame was likely the same one in which it was displayed by the previous owner, Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster. By 1938, the Huntington’s curator of art collections, Maurice Block, was ready to respond to complaints about the painting’s “bulky 19th-century frame.” According to a memo written on May 6 of that year, “We have cut down one of our old frames to put the Blue Boy into it.”

The replacement frame appears to have been an extra supplied by Duveen and probably had been in storage for some time in the Huntington Art Gallery basement. This frame is of the so-called Carlo Maratta type, widely used in England from 1750 through the turn of the 20th century. . .

The Huntington recently began exploring ways to reframe The Blue Boy. We first approached Michael Gregory, frame specialist at Arnold Wiggins & Sons in London, a workshop specializing in the adaption and reproduction of antique frames. It supplies frames to the Royal Household and London’s National Portrait Gallery. . .

The full posting is available here»

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Michael Yonan said, on October 30, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    What a fascinating story. I think the rendering with the rococo frame looks absolutely wonderful! Its ornateness reflects the complexity of Gainsborough’s brush work in a lovely way.

    So I guess the pre-1938 frame, the one in which it was purchased, no longer survives?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: