Kehinde Wiley: A Portrait of a Young Gentleman
Newly commissioned painting 'A Portrait of a Young Gentleman' by Kehinde Wiley features in the historic Thornton Portrait Gallery at The Huntington Library, San Marino, across from Thomas Gainsborough's iconic painting 'The Blue Boy' (ca. 1770). Inspired by 'The Blue Boy', and Gainsborough's original title for the work, 'A Portrait of a Young Gentleman' is a large-scale work in the Grand Manner style. The acquisition of the portrait celebrates the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the Gainsborough painting by Henry and Arabella Huntington, the founders of the institution.
Wiley has spoken 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 British Grand Manner portraits-monumental depictions of England's 18th- and 19th-century noble class. Wiley later incorporated 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 favourites," Wiley said. "I was taken by their imagery, their sheer spectacle, and, of course, their beauty. When I started painting, I started looking at their technical proficiency-the manipulation of paint, colour, and composition. These portraits are hyperreal, with the detail on the face finely crafted, and the brushwork, the clothing, and the landscape fluid and playful. Since I felt somewhat removed from the imagery-personally and culturally-I took a scientific approach and had an aesthetic fascination with these paintings. That distance gave me a removed freedom. Later, I started thinking about issues of desire, objectification, and fantasy in portraiture and, of course, colonialism."