'The Blue Boy' painting being taken down from Huntington Library for restoration project

SAN MARINO, Calif. (KABC) -- The Huntington Library has taken down its most famous painting, "The Blue Boy," for preservation, and Eyewitness News got an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the restoration project.

"The Blue Boy" is one of the most famous paintings in British and American history. For almost 100 years, it has been on view to the public at the Huntington Library in San Marino.

There may have been a few more visitors at the library's portrait gallery on Monday. Many knew "The Blue Boy" was going off view for three months for the first step in a major conservation project.

English painter Thomas Gainsborough created the painting in 1770, and when railroad magnate Henry Huntington bought the painting in 1921 for $750,000 dollars, it was the most money ever paid for a painting.

The art dealer sent it on tour for news coverage before it was delivered to Huntington Library. In today's terms, "The Blue Boy" went viral.

"It became a media sensation, and the fact that it was leaving England and coming out to California was also sort of a big deal, so I think he was able to generate a lot of publicity for this picture, and its partly why it stayed in the public eye for so long," said Melinda McCurdy, British art associate curator.

De-installation was a kid-glove operation for the 250-year-old boy. People come from far and wide just to see the beloved portrait, which is a worry for longtime patrons.

Project Blue Boy starts in a lab where he will be examined with far more than a fine-toothed comb. Conservation will use the most technical tools -- microscope, digital X-ray, infra-red, ultra violet -- all of it directing how the peeling varnish and brittle canvas will be conserved.

In fall 2018, when the actual work is underway, it will be done back in the gallery, where you can see it happen.

"The Blue Boy" will go back on view Nov. 1, but from now until then, there will be a placeholder.
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