The National Gallery, London
(25 January – 15 May, 2022)
During the nineteenth century, the painting’s fame grew and full-length portraits by Gainsborough and his contemporaries became much sought after by wealthy American collectors. American buying power from the 1880s onwards was mirrored by the comparative economic decline of the British aristocracy. The sale of The Blue Boy in 1921, to the American railroad magnate and collector Henry E. Huntington, was therefore seen by many as emblematic of this shift in economic and cultural power. Given the proximity to the end of the First World War, the loss of The Blue Boy was unsurprisingly viewed as a national tragedy. However, its afterlife, as a kind of permanent ambassador for British art, has undoubtedly fed into ideas of Britain and Britishness – its history, society, culture and character – that still resonate today.
Christine Riding is The Jacob Rothschild Head of the Curatorial Department and Curator of British Paintings, The National Gallery, London. With Contributions by Susanna Avery-Quash is Senior Research Curator, Curatorial Department, The National Gallery, London and Melinda McCurdy, Imogen Tedbury and Jacqueline Riding