Enfilade

Exhibition | Gainsborough’s Blue Boy

Posted in exhibitions, lectures (to attend) by Editor on January 17, 2022

Opening this month at the National Gallery:

Gainsborough’s Blue Boy
National Gallery, London, 25 January — 15 May 2022

In the winter of 1922, Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy hung at the National Gallery in London for three weeks before it sailed across the Atlantic to its new home in California. It was a public farewell to a beloved painting. 100 years later (to the day), Gainsborough’s masterpiece returns to the Gallery to go on display in Trafalgar Square once again.

On a child-sized canvas, the young subject is dressed in a striking blue costume; he is bright-eyed yet serious, shy yet direct. The identity of the boy in blue is uncertain; more importantly, he is a stand-in for all boys and the idea of childhood. Through a series of high-profile exhibitions, widely published reproduction prints, and countless copies by artists down the ages, he has become one of Britain’s most beloved sons.

The Blue Boy represents the best of 18th-century British art. It is Gainsborough’s eloquent response to the legacy of Van Dyck and grand manner portraiture. It is a proud demonstration by Gainsborough of what painting can achieve. The popularity and influence of the painting have made it an icon, which has been quoted by contemporary artists and referenced in Hollywood films. After exactly 100 years, this exhibition reunites The Blue Boy with the British public and with the paintings that inspired it. This is the first time the painting has been loaned by The Huntington—it is a once-in-a-century opportunity to see this iconic work in the UK.

S E L E C T E D  P R O G R A M M I N G

Paterson Joseph in Conversation
Friday, 18 February 2022, 6.30pm

Paterson Joseph in the title role of his play Sancho: An Act of Remembrance, 2018 (Photograph by Robert Day).

Acclaimed actor and writer Paterson Joseph considers the legacies created by Gainsborough’s portraits of Ignatius Sancho and The Blue Boy. Joseph has extensively researched the 18th-century Black writer and composer Ignatius Sancho, whose portrait by Gainsborough is found in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. In conversation with Christine Riding, the Jacob Rothschild Head of the Curatorial Department, Joseph will explore the narratives created through Gainsborough’s work, revealing a portrait of 18th-century Britain and how it is remembered today.

Paterson Joseph is an actor and writer. His work includes stints at the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as roles in Peep Show, Timeless, Noughts and Crosses, and Vigil. Films include The Beach, Aeon Flux, and In The Name of the Father. He is the author of the monodrama Sancho: An Act of Remembrance and Julius Caesar and Me: Exploring Shakespeare’s African Play. His debut novel The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho will be published in October 2022 by Dialogue Books.

Curator’s Introduction: Gainsborough’s Blue Boy
Monday, 28 February 2022, 1.00pm

Join Christine Riding, the Jacob Rothschild Head of the Curatorial Department, for this lunchtime talk to learn more about this iconic image of childhood, which has been a source of inspiration for contemporary artists and referenced in Hollywood films. A recording will be available on Youtube.

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