7 of 35 portraits on display in Room 12 at the National Portrait Gallery
by Sir Joshua Reynolds
oil on canvas, 1756-1757
50 1/4 in. x 40 in. (1276 mm x 1016 mm)
Given by an anonymous donor, 1911
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Sitterback to top
- Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Poet, critic and lexicographer. Sitter associated with 50 portraits.
Artistback to top
- Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Painter and first President of the Royal Academy. Artist associated with 1413 portraits, Sitter associated with 38 portraits.
This portraitback to top
Massively ungainly and plagued with nervous tics, Dr Johnson was a victim of melancholia and could not bear solitude. He had an immense circle of friends and was one of the greatest conversationalists of all time. This portrait of him as a man of letters was painted by his friend Reynolds shortly after the publication of his Dictionary of the English Language of 1755, a prodigious labour which remains a monument to his scholarship as well as to his forthright personality. It was about this time that Johnson wrote his famous letter to Lord Chesterfield rebuking his former patron for his neglect. Information about the conservation of this work is available on the Gallery's website at www.npg.org.uk/drjohnson
Linked publicationsback to top
- Audio Guide
- Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 288
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 340
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 104
- Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 9
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1756back to top
Current affairsGovernment falls after criticism of its handling of the Seven Years War. Prime Minister Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle is succeeded by William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire, who forms a ministry effectively run by William Pitt the Elder.
Art and scienceSatiristist Thomas Rowlandson is born in Old Jewry in the City of London. His main rival James Gillray is born exactly a month later in Chelsea. Completion of William Edwards' Old Bridge, Pontypridd; the longest single span bridge in Britain for the next forty years..
International'Black Hole of Calcutta': a group of British prisoners, including East India Company servant John Zephaniah Holwell, are locked in a small, overcrowded dungeon overnight when Fort William in Calcutta is captured by troops of the Nawab of Bengal. Holwell claims 123 of the 146 prisoners died. Outbreak of the Seven Years War in which Britain, Hanover, Prussia and Denmark are pitted against France, Austria, Russia and Sweden.
See this portrait
On display in Room 12 at the National Portrait Gallery