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COMING HOME: Samuel Johnson

Past national programme archive
13 September 2019 - 3 January 2020

Lichfield Cathedral, Lichfield

Samuel Johnson
by Sir Joshua Reynolds
1756-1757
NPG 1597

Dr Samuel Johnson was born and resided for 27 years in Lichfield, living at the family bookshop. A journalist, literary critic and poet, he is still famous for his landmark Dictionary of the English Language (1755). He was an imposing figure, who was plagued with tics and could not bear solitude. He had an immense circle of friends and was regarded as one of the greatest conversationalists of all time. His friend Joshua Reynolds founded the Literary Club in 1764 to ‘give him unlimited opportunities for talking’.

Joshua Reynolds began this portrait of Samuel Johnson around 1756. The painting was never finished and remained in Reynolds’ studio until 1798, when it was given to James Boswell, Johnson’s biographer. Boswell had it engraved as the frontispiece to his Life of Johnson (1791).

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