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Past exhibition

Gainsborough's Blue Boy

25 January – 15 May 2022

Admission free

Room 46

In the winter of 1922, Gainsborough’s ‘The Blue Boy’ hung at the Gallery 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.

Detail from Thomas Gainsborough, 'The Blue Boy', 1770 © Courtesy of The Huntington, San Marino, California

Principal Supporters

The H J Hyams Exhibition Programme

Supported by The Capricorn Foundation



The Sir John Ritblat Family Foundation

'A triumphant return'
★★★★★ The Daily Telegraph

'You'll be blue if you miss it'
★★★★ Evening Standard

Find out more

Curator's introduction

Curator's introduction

Gainsborough's Blue Boy

Christine Riding, the Jacob Rothschild Head of the Curatorial Department, introduces the exhibition in this recorded live talk
Why is Gainsborough's 'Blue Boy' so famous?

Why is Gainsborough's 'Blue Boy' so famous?

100 years after leaving the UK, find out why 'The Blue Boy' remains one of the nation's favourites
Picture of the month

Picture of the month

February 2022: The Blue Boy

Art historian Dan Vo looks at the queer history of Gainsborough's ‘Blue Boy’ for LGBTQ+ History Month
Gainsborough, Van Dyck and the Old Masters

Gainsborough, Van Dyck and the Old Masters

The story of British Art

Discover the influence of European artists through the ages and how they helped shape Gainsborough and his approach to portraiture and landscapes.