Huntington Library launches 2-year restoration of ‘Blue Boy’

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SAN MARINO, Calif. (AP) — "Blue Boy" isn't quite as blue as he once was — and that isn't a good thing for one of the world's most recognizable paintings.

To restore its luster, the 18th century masterpiece by British painter Thomas Gainsborough, featuring a British youth dressed nearly all in blue, will undergo a major, two-year restoration beginning next week.

Curators at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, said Thursday they want to revitalize its color and shore up its canvas.

"The original colors now appear hazy and dull, and many of the details are obscured," Christina O'Connell, senior paintings conservator at The Huntington, said in a statement.

Adhesive that binds the canvas to its lining is also failing, and some of the work's paint is beginning to flake off.

Huntington officials plan to put the painting back on display in September 2018 for a year-long exhibition called "Project Blue Boy." During that time, visitors can see the final phase of the restoration.

Steve Hindle, the institution's interim president, said the painting has been the most beloved work of art at The Huntington since it opened its doors in 1928.

"It is with great pride that we launch this thoughtful and painstaking endeavor to study, restore and preserve Gainsborough's masterpiece," he said.

Gainsborough painted the life-size, oil-on-canvas representation of a serious-looking youngster sometime in the 1760s. It was displayed publicly for the first time in 1770 and titled "A Portrait of a Young Gentleman." By the end of the century it had acquired the name "Blue Boy."

Gainsborough, who was noted for stunning landscapes and portraits, died in 1788. The identity of his subject for "Blue Boy" is unknown.

Railroad tycoon Henry Huntington, who founded the institution that bears his name, acquired the painting in 1921.