JOHNSON, Dr SAMUEL (1709-1784, critic, poet and lexicographer)
Reynolds painted five portraits of Johnson over the thirty years of their friendship. The portrait, painted by Reynolds in 1772/1778, depicts Johnson of the Club, full-wigged, the lips parted as if in the act of speaking. It was probably painted for the library of Henry Thrale's house at Streatham. Johnson wrote of it to Mrs Thrale saying that Sir Joshua 'seems to like his own performance'. Hawkins said that the portrait 'scraped in mezzotint by Doughty, is extremely like...there is in it that appearance of a labouring, working mind, of an indolent reposing body, which he had to a very great degree.' This is probably the portrait of which Johnson himself said that Reynolds could paint him as deaf as he chose but 'I will not be blinking Sam.'
Johnson declared Reynolds to be 'the most invulnerable man he knew; whom, if he should quarrel with him, he should find the most difficulty how to abuse.' He quoted from Reynolds's Discourses seventeen times in the Dictionary. When Boswell dedicated his Life of Johnson to Reynolds, he prefaced it with a letter of dedication: 'You, my dear Sir, studied him, and knew him well: you venerated and admired him. Yet, luminous as he was on the whole, you perceived all the shades which mingled in the grand composition; all the little peculiarities and slight blemishes which marked the literary colours.'
William Doughty was a protégé of William Mason, the poet and painter friend of Reynolds. Doughty studied with Reynolds, who advised him 'to stick with mezzotint' which Doughty interpreted as a hint that he should give up painting. In 1780 he married one of Reynolds's servants, left for India, was captured by the French and Spaniards and died at Lisbon. See Lot 164.
Johnson himself collected prints and owned 146 portraits at the time of his death.
REFERENCES: Chaloner Smith, British Mezzotint Portraits, second state; James Boswell, Life of Johnson, edited by Hill and Powell, 1979; K.K. Yung, Samuel Johnson, 1984; John Wain, Samuel Johnson, 1974; The Letters of Samuel Johnson, edited by Bruce Redford, 1992; Reynolds, edited by Nicholas Penny, 1986; David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 volumes, 2000.