Today left coasters can get their first glimpses of the Huntington Art Gallery after its $20 million renovation begun in January of 2006. The San Marino villa-cum-Beaux-Arts mansion, once home to railroad and real estate magnate Henry Huntington and his wife, was designed by Pasadena architects Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey in 1910 and opened to the public in 1928, a year after Huntington’s death. The gallery’s collection of European art spans the 15th to the 20th centuries, although many visitors go straight for the portrait gallery (added in 1934) to ogle Thomas Gainsborough‘s “Blue Boy” (ca. 1770), Thomas Lawrence‘s “Pinkie” (1794), and Sir Joshua Reynolds‘ “Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse” (1793-84). Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight sets the scene:
“The Blue Boy” gazes from one wind-swept summit to another across the room, where…Lawrence’s virginal depiction of young Sarah Moulton, a.k.a. “Pinkie,” resides. The lofty encounter occurs under the imposing eye of Reynolds’ looming masterpiece, a portrait of actress Sarah Siddons enthroned like a cross between Zeus and a biblical prophet from Michelangelo‘s Sistine ceiling. Painted in the russet-brown tones of Rembrandt and enacting the role of Melpomene, the mythical Greek muse of tragedy, she’s familiar to moviegoers as the model for the coveted Broadway award statuette in All About Eve.
Led by architect Bert England with preservation architect Stephen Farneth, the Huntington Art Gallery’s renovations added 5,300 square feet of public space and upgraded the infrastructure (we’ll sleep a little better tonight knowing the place has undergone a full seismic retrofit). Exhibition designer Stephen Saitas and the Huntington’s director of art collections John Murdoch masterminded new interpretive components and new gallery presentations of approximately 1,200 European artworks. As for that famous boy in blue, Murdoch is eager to broaden the focus. “The problem is, there’s a tendency of people to say, I don’t need to go to the Huntington because I’ve seen “Blue Boy,’” he told The New York Times recently. “It’s like people at the Louvre running through the museum to see the Mona Lisa and missing everything along the way.”