English School, 18th Century Dr Johnson and George III 126.5 x 100.8 cm. (49¾ x 39¾ in.)
Lot 43*
English School, 18th Century Dr Johnson's interview with George III 126.5 x 100.8 cm. (49¾ x 39¾ in.)
Sold for £4,800 (US$ 7,791) inc. premium

Lot Details
English School, 18th Century
Dr Johnson's interview with George III
oil on canvas
126.5 x 100.8 cm. (49¾ x 39¾ in.)

Footnotes

  • The present painting records the famous lexicographer's meeting with George III at what is now Buckingham Palace in February, 1767. Johnson's biographer, Boswell recounted how the doctor had frequently visited the King's Library (the nucleus of what became the British Library), which he used to say was more numerous and curious than he supposed any person could have made in the time which the king had employed. 'Mr. Barnard, the librarian, took care that he should have every accommodation that could contribute to his ease and convenience while indulging his literary taste in that place; so that he had here a very agreeable resource at leisure hours.' The King, having been informed of his occasional visits, signified a desire that he should be told when Dr. Johnson came next to the library. Accordingly, the next time that Johnson did come, King George had his librarian introduce him.

    The two conversed agreeably on the studies of Oxford, the two University libraries, the literary journals in England and abroad, the Philosophical Transactions, Lord Lyttleton's History, and other literary topics. Boswell continued: "During the whole of this interview Johnson talked to his Majesty with profound respect, but still in his firm, manly manner, with a sonorous voice, and never in that subdued tone which is commonly used at the levée and in the drawing-room. After the King withdrew, Johnson showed himself highly pleased with his Majesty's conversation and gracious behaviour." In speaking of this interview, the biographer wrote: 'He said to Mr. Barnard, the king's librarian, "Sir, they may talk of the king as they will, but he is the finest gentleman I have ever seen." And he afterwards observed to his friend Langton, "Sir, his manners are those of as fine a gentleman as we may suppose Louis XIV or Charles II"' A notorious Jacobite sympathiser, it was not often that Dr. Johnson condescended to express himself so approvingly of anybody, least of all of one whose position challenged his beloved Stuart dynasty.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that the subject of this painting is in fact The Ghost of Dr Johnson appearing to James Boswell. The composition is based on the engraving published by Charles Bestland in 1803. The print shows a caption with Johnson chiding Boswell with the words: Thou art a Retailer of Phrases / And dost deal in Remnants of Remnants / Like a Maker of Pincushions (a quotation from Congreve's comedy The Way of the World).
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