Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, a well-known painting in Britain, will return to the UK after a century.
The work will be temporarily shown at the National Gallery in London from January 25, 2022 – 100 years after it left the UK when it was sold to a US businessman in 1922.
Gainsborough’s masterpiece shows an adolescent in a blue satin suit standing against a country landscape backdrop. The subject is believed to be Jonathan Buttall, the son of a wealthy merchant.
The painting was once owned by the Duke of Westminster. It made its first public appearance in 1770 at the Royal Academy. Though originally titled A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, the nickname The Blue Boy began to gain popularity in 1798.
It was eventually sold to American railway businessman Henry E Huntington for $728,000. The National Gallery held a farewell show for the work in 1922 that brought in 90,000 visitors over three weeks.
The work has since been part of Huntington Art Gallery's collection in San Marino, California, and has not been loaned to any institution until now.
The Blue Boy has been referenced in various Hollywood films, including Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, wherein the protagonist, played by Jamie Foxx, wears a similar blue outfit.
In an interview with the BBC, National Gallery director Gabriele Finaldi said the work shows Gainsborough at “his dazzling best”.
“The loan of Gainsborough's The Blue Boy to the National Gallery is truly exceptional and a unique opportunity for visitors,” he said.
“Rich in historical resonances, a painting of supreme poise and elegance, The Blue Boy is without doubt a masterpiece of British art.”
The painting will be on view at the National Gallery from January to May 2022.