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'Blue Boy' is ready for his close-up

October 15, 2009 |  2:56 pm

Blue Boy Did you notice that "The Blue Boy" is looking a little fresher this week? That’s because the Huntington’s most famous painting, a full-length portrait of Jonathan Buttall painted in 1770 by Thomas Gainsborough, has a new coat of varnish.

On Tuesday, the day the San Marino Institution is closed to the public, “The Blue Boy” was removed from its place of honor and subjected to professional scrutiny by a trio of visiting conservators. Rica Jones, a Gainsborough specialist at the Tate Britain in London and currently a guest conservator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, examined the painting at close range and removed a few tiny cross sections of paint for further study. Then the artwork was wheeled to a covered outdoor plaza, where Mark Leonard, head of paintings conservation at the Getty Museum, and colleague Tiarna Doherty carefully varnished the surface.

“It looked a little dull,” Leonard said. “Now it has come back to life and sits comfortably with the other paintings in the gallery.” Celebrated as the artwork may be, it hadn’t received much attention since 1990, when a team of conservators did some retouching and consolidated bits of flaking paint.  It’s due for a cleaning, but in “beautiful condition,” he said.

This week’s project is the latest in a longtime relationship between Getty conservators and the Huntington’s collection. Among other plans, Doherty will spend six to eight months cleaning a pair of portraits by George Romney and Yvonne Szafran will work on a Byzantine triptych, discovered in the Huntington’s rare book vault in 1930.

-- Suzanne  Muchnic

Photo: Getty conservators Tiarna Doherty and Mark Leonard varnish "The Blue Boy." Credit: Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

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