To celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Dr Samuel Johnson the National Portrait Gallery
is mounting a special display of portraits of the great writer and his circle. Using prints and drawings from the Gallery's Collection the display will also include portraits of those whose 'lives' he wrote such as John Milton and Alexander Pope, alongside his contemporary biographers and the satirical prints that emerged in response to the race to record his life.
The display will show how Johnson's appearance was recorded by at least twelve artists and his portrait disseminated widely through the medium of print. He was often depicted with books or writings tools in a tradition for representing authors that goes back to the Ancient Greeks. Also included in the display are portraits of the key people in his life including David Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds, James Boswell and Hester Lynch Piozzi.
Celebrating Johnson's life, the display focuses on his role in the development of biography, a literary form with which the National Portrait Gallery is closely linked. Johnson transformed the genre and raised the status of what was previously considered to be a 'low' form of literature.
To coincide with The Live and Lives of Dr Johnson, visitors can also see the Gallery's iconic portrait of Dr Johnson by Sir Joshua Reynolds which is on view in Room 12 (also on the Second Floor) after a substantial period in conservation. This conservation project has revealed some fascinating insights into the complex history and painting of this portrait, which was left unfinished by Reynolds and remained in his studio until it was gifted by Reynolds to James Boswell, Johnson's friend and biographer. For more details on the conservation project see www.npg.org.uk/drjohnson
Born in Lichfield, Johnson (1709-1784), a writer, critic and lexicographer, found fame with the publication of his great Dictionary of the English Language in 1755. He went on to become one of the most celebrated men of the eighteenth century, attracting praise for his poetry, essays, biographies and conversational talents. The display is part of a series of events to mark the 300th anniversary of Johnson's birth. For further information on these events visit http://www.johnson2009.org/