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Samuel Johnson

3 of 50 portraits of Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson, by Edward Hodges Baily; Joseph Nollekens, 1828, based on a work of 1777 -NPG 996 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Samuel Johnson

by Edward Hodges Baily, after Joseph Nollekens
1828, based on a work of 1777
27 in. (686 mm) high
NPG 996

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed: E.H. BAILY, R.A./AFTER NOLLEKENS,/1828.

This portraitback to top

Baily’s bust derives directly from that by Joseph Nollekens, exhibited RA 1777, of which he owned a cast. [1] The head has lost much of the subtlety of Nollekens’s carving, the drapery has been greatly simpified and the shoulders widened.
No marble original of the Nollekens is known. Johnson sent a cast to his step daughter Lucy Porter in 1777-78 and writing to her on 27 February 1778 said that ‘My bust was made for the exhibition, and shown for the honour of the artist’. [2] The likeness was not approved by Mrs Thrale, Frances Reynolds or Mrs Garrick, and Johnson himself was displeased by the hair which Nollekens had insisted upon to make him resemble ‘an ancient poet’. [3] The mould was acquired by James Deville from the Nollekens sale, Christie's, 3 July 1823, and the first cast was bought by Francis Chantrey, who considered it ‘by far, the finest head’ ever made by Nollekens. [4] A lead cast, the best of the surviving examples of the bust, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum (A.63.1926); [5] a nineteenth-century marble copy is at Willey Park and an indifferent version is in Westminster Abbey; [6] a terracotta by A. L. Vago is in the Athenaeum, London, and plaster casts are, for example, at the Yale Center for British Art (B1990.17) and Johnson's Birthplace Museum, Lichfield (two, one bronzed).
An anonymous, provincial painting, possibly late-eighteenth century, in the Johnson Birthplace Museum, Lichfield, shows Bennet Langton contemplating Nollekens's bust. [7]

Footnotesback to top

1) See Robert Vernon’s Gift, Tate Gallery, 1993, no.3.
2) B. Redford ed., The Letters of Samuel Johnson, III, pp 54, 108-09.
3) ‘Modelled from the flowing locks of a sturdy Irish beggar’; J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times, ed., W. Whitten, 1920, I, p 49; II, p 51.
4) J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times, ed., W. Whitten, 1920, II, p 69.
5) Illus. Johnson, Arts Council, 1984, no.91; Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill & E. F. Powell, IV, f.p.555.
6) Presented by G. F. Tite 1938; acquired from the Peel Heirlooms sale, Robinson & Fisher, 10 May 1900, lot 150, unattributed.
7) Illus. Johnson, Arts Council, 1984, no.59.

Referenceback to top

Libert 1960
H. W. Liebert, Johnson’s Head: the story of the Bust of Dr Samuel Johnson..., Grolier Club, [1960], n.p..

Yung 1984
K. K. Yung, Johnson, Arts Council, 1984, p 125.

Provenanceback to top

Commissioned (with busts of George Canning, Isaac Newton and the Duke of Wellington) by Robert Vernon, by whom presented to the National Gallery 1847; lent to the NPG 1895; ownership transferred to the Tate Gallery 1954 and to the NPG 1957.

Exhibitionsback to top

Boswell, NPG, 1967 (87); Robert Vernon's Gift, Tate Gallery, 1993 (3); Beningbrough 1979-.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

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