“The Blue Boy“, one of Thomas Gainsborough’s most famous works, has returned to England for the first time in 100 years, and is on display at the National Gallery in London from 25 January to 15 May 2022.
The fame of “The Blue Boy” led the American magnate Henry E. Huntington to pay $728,800 for the painting in 1921, one of the highest sums paid for a painting at the time. The sale of the work and its subsequent departure from England provoked a wave of widespread indignation against Sir Joseph Duveen, the broker who handled the deal.
Now owned by the Huntington Library Art Museum in California, the painting has now returned across the prairies and Atlantic for the first time in a century, as we said earlier. Further information on the exhibition may be obtained here.
The sale to Henry Huntington inspired Cole Porter to write a slow, forgettable song for the 1922 London theatrical revue, Mayfair and Montmartre, entitled “The Blue Boy Blues,” in which a young soubrette named Nelly Taylor portrayed The Blue Boy, pantomime-style, to what must have been polite applause.
Other drag portrayals of the Blue Boy have been performed by such luminaries as Marlene Dietrich and Shirley Temple.
The Cole Porter lyrics run, in part,
For I’m the Blue Boy,
The beautiful Blue Boy,
And I’m forced to admit
I’m feeling a bit depressed.
A silver dollar took me and my collar
To show the slow cowboys
Just how boys
In England used to be dressed.
I don’t know what I shall do
So far from Mayfair
If Mister Gainsborough knew
I know he’d frown…