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'The biographers'

20 of 50 portraits of Samuel Johnson

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© National Portrait Gallery, London

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'The biographers'

by James Sayers, published by Thomas Cornell
etching, published June 1786
10 3/4 in. x 7 5/8 in. (273 mm x 194 mm) plate size; 11 5/8 in. x 8 3/8 in. (295 mm x 214 mm) paper size
Purchased, 1905
Reference Collection
NPG D12243

Sittersback to top

Artistsback to top

  • Thomas Cornell (active 1780-1792). Artist or producer associated with 59 portraits.
  • James Sayers (1748-1823), Artist. Artist or producer associated with 192 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

In this print a bust of Johnson looks down on the three biographers with displeasure. The inscription makes reference to Piozzi's Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786), Boswell's Journal of aTour to the Hebrides (1785), in which Johnson is compared to a bear, and Courtenay's Politic Review of the Literary … Character of the late S. Johnson (1786).

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Events of 1786back to top

Current affairs

Philosopher and politician Edmund Burke instigates impeachment proceedings against Warren Hastings, former Governor-General of Bengal after concerns about the moral standards of the British in India are raised.
Prime Minister William Pitt appoints commissioners for the reduction of the national debt and establishes a sinking fund of £1 million a year.
Government approves the establishment of a penal colony at Botany Bay.

Art and science

Robert Burns publishes Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect bringing him immediate success across the country.
Engraver and publisher John Boydell initiates plans for his Shakespeare Gallery in an effort to establish a school of British history painting.
Merchant David Dale establishes New Lanark in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, as a model cotton milling community.


General Charles Cornwallis succeeds Warren Hastings as Governor-General in India.
Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Marriage of Figaro premieres in Vienna.
Francisco Goya is appointed court painter to the Spanish king Charles III.

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