The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced Thursday that it has commissioned the renowned artist Kehinde Wiley to create a new work called “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman,” inspired by Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait “The Blue Boy.”
Wiley’s work will be a large-scale portrait in the Grand Manner style that will be added to The Huntington’s permanent collection.
The acquisition of the Wiley portrait celebrates the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the Gainsborough painting by Henry and Arabella Huntington, the founders of the institution.
“Just as scholars come to The Huntington to study and reinterpret our significant collections, with this commission we are delighted that Kehinde Wiley will reenvision our iconic work, ‘The Blue Boy,’ and Grand Manner portraiture in a powerful way,” said Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence.
Wiley, who is an American artist that is best known for his portraits that render people of color in the traditional settings of Old Master paintings, has a history with The Hunnington. He was enrolled into a class there by his mother where he encountered several of the library’s Grand Manner portraits, and they made such an impression on him that he dedicated his art to resembling that style while also focusing on the Black and brown bodies that were so often missing from similar pieces.
“Since I felt somewhat removed from the imagery — personally and culturally — I took a scientific approach and had an aesthetic fascination with these paintings,” Wiley said. “That distance gave me a removed freedom. Later, I started thinking about issues of desire, objectification, and fantasy in portraiture and, of course, colonialism.”
For “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman,” Wiley has been painting in the West African country known as Senegal, where he has been living during the COVID-19 pandemic and where Black Rock Senegal, his artist-in-residence program, is headquartered.
The painting will be on view from Oct. 2, 2021 through Jan. 3, 2022 in the institution’s Thornton Portrait Gallery and tickets can be purchased on The Hunnington’s official website.