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Art & architecture, Exhibitions

Gainsborough: The Pink Boy Conserved

12 Nov – 2 Jan, Wed-Sun (inc Mon 19, Tue 20 & Tue 27 Dec)

12.30–7pm (last entry 6.30pm)

This is a past exhibition

A new display celebrates the return of Thomas Gainsborough’s ‘The Pink Boy’ (1782), one of Waddesdon’s most popular paintings, after being cleaned and conserved, a process that has revealed much about the painting’s creation.

A special display reveals it anew, freed from a discoloured varnish, alongside three other Waddesdon Gainsboroughs that depict boys in so-called ‘Van Dyck’ dress.

Gainsborough revered Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)—the leading painter at Charles I’s court—considering him the supreme exponent of British portraiture, against whose measure contemporaries judged him. Gainsborough’s boys in ‘Vandyke’ dress—each of differing age and social class and painted for different purposes—play with the fluid relationship between clothing and identity.

The Pink Boy is a more youthful counterpart of the famous Blue Boy (which was on exceptional loan to The National Gallery, London until 15 May 2022 from the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California) and, like him, wearing an 18th-century fancy-dress version of 17th-century clothes.

‘The Pink Boy’ is as much a showpiece of Gainsborough’s skill, demonstrating his relationship to the art of the past as well as his modernity, as it is a portrait of the sitter, who is probably Master Francis Nicholls. It acquired its nickname in the 19th-century, in the wake of The Blue Boy’s fame.

Portraits of Lord Alexander Douglas-Hamilton and Lord Archibald Hamilton demonstrate how Gainsborough used different types of ‘Vandyke’ costume and contrasting painting techniques to differentiate the relative rank and age of two aristocratic brothers. The portrait of the artist’s nephew and pupil Gainsborough Dupont is among his most intimate and scintillating works, conjuring the teenager’s individuality and inner consciousness as much as the shimmer of light on silk.

It will be so exciting to have The Pink Boy back at Waddesdon after cleaning and conservation by Rica Jones. The painting is a favourite among our visitors, and I hope they will be as delighted as I am to see it brought back to life and, for the first time, displayed alongside the other Waddesdon boys in 'Vandyke' costume. We are lucky to have so many examples of this type of Gainsborough portrait - Ferdinand and Alice seem to have been particularly drawn to it - and there is still much to learn about them.

Dr Juliet Carey, Senior Curator at Waddesdon Manor