National Gallery, London
Sold in 1921 for a record price, this youth in blue and silver is back after 100 years away. Yet it’s as hokey a vision of English art as a Disney cartoon of a fox hunt
You must remember Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy. It’s the painting that gets stolen from a rich man’s house in the 1929 Laurel and Hardy short Wrong Again. Trying to claim the reward, Stan and Ollie fetch a racehorse called Blue Boy instead and attempt to “leave it on the piano” as they were asked.
If only the National Gallery screened this in their tiny exhibition to mark The Blue Boy’s return to Britain for the first time in a century, we might get a sense of what it once meant. In 1921 railway magnate Henry E Huntingdon bought this 1770 painting for a world record price, making it as famous in 1920s America as Banksy is now. Perhaps The Blue Boy even inspired pop art, for it injected glamour into jazz age Hollywood. But that was then.