Conservator Christina OConnell at work on The Blue Boy in one of the Huntingtons galleries—more than 200,000 visitors witnessed the conservation in progress in 2018-19 Courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens
After months in the conservation lab at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, in San Marino, California, Thomas Gainsboroughs The Blue Boy (around 1770) is ready to go back on display, although the galleries are closed because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic until at least 15 May. In the meantime, the museum has posted a video about the restoration on its website.
The project began in 2013, when Christina OConnell arrived at the Huntington as the institutions first ever paintings conservator. She undertook a full survey of the museums art collection, examining around 600 paintings to assess their physical condition. The Huntingtons most famous grouping is in the stately Thornton Portrait Gallery, where full-length portraits in the British “grand manner” style are hung, including The Blue Boy, depicting a confident young man in a blue satin suit posing in the British countryside. In 1921 the American railroad mogul Henry Huntington bought the painting from the dealer Joseph Duveen for $728,000, the most ever paid for a painting at the time.
The painting needed considerable work, given its flaking paint, darkened varnishes and structural weaknesses
In 2017, OConnell and Melinda McCurdy, the associate curator for British art, closely studied the work using the latest technologies, including infrared reflectography and multiple high-resolution X-rays that were digitally stitched together. “We spent a lot of time studying the materials and the technique of the artist, how theyve aged over time,” says OConnell, “and also understanding the history of past interventions, whats been added”. The painting needed considerable work, given its flaking paint, darkened varnishes and structural weaknesses.
One surprise was an early 11-inch tear in the lower left side of the canvas, which was revealed through the X-rays. It had been well mended: the canvas fibres had been lined up and an overall protective backing was added. “My theory is that the tear happened sometime in the early 19th century,” McCurdy says. “It was exhibited several times, and I think it happened during shipping.”
Fortunately, says OConnell, the tear was so well mended that she did not need to repair it again, but she did have to remove some earlier overpainting to reveal Gainsboroughs brushwork. Today, the tear is only noticeable if you stand to one side and catch the light just so—it appears as a slightly raised ridge.
After drawing up a plan of attack, OConnell spent a year and a half working on The Blue Boy, including 12 months in public in the Thornton gallery, where she sat in a mini-lab behind a small exhibition that attracted more than 217,000 visitors. It was a way to keep the very popular painting on display while also teaching visitors about the conservation process. While OConnell would regularly give talks to the public, most of the time she was working on the canvas while listening to podcasts oRead More – Source