Kehinde Wiley’s A Portrait of a Young Gentleman was unveiled last week at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in California. The institution’s newly commissioned work implicitly responds to The Blue Boy (ca. 1770) by Thomas Gainsborough, and is placed opposite the recently restored Gainsborough painting.
“Just as scholars come to The Huntington to study and reinterpret our significant collections, with this commission we are delighted that Kehinde Wiley has reenvisioned our iconic work, The Blue Boy, and Grand Manner portraiture in a powerful way,” said Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence. “Across the breadth of our library, art, and botanical collections, we are inviting perspectives that alter the way we see tradition itself.”
Wiley has long talked about the role The Huntington played in his formative years as an artist growing up in Los Angeles. When he was young, his mother enrolled him in art classes at The Huntington, where he encountered a formidable collection of Grand Manner portraits—large-scale depictions of England’s 18th- and 19th-century noble class. The portraits made such an impression on Wiley that he would later incorporate their stylistic representations of wealth, glory, and power into his own artistic practice, focusing on the Black and brown bodies missing from the museums he visited.
“I loved The Huntington’s galleries; the paintings by Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and John Constable were some of my favorites,” Wiley said. “I was taken by their imagery, their sheer spectacle, and, of course, their beauty. When I started painting, I