Young Sam Johnson


Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). The Infant Johnson. [ca. 1780]. Oil on canvas. *2003JM-4

The question of whether this painting is in fact intended to depict Johnson as a baby remains somewhat controversial. It was first sold in 1796 simply as “Study of a Naked Boy,” and not described as a portrait of Johnson until 1844, in a catalogue of the art collection of the 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, with the rather casual aside that “Sir Joshua said that he intended it to represent Dr. Johnson when a year old. One can imagine him something like it at that age.” Of course, since Reynolds was Johnson’s junior by 14 years, it would have been a portrait painted from his imagination as well. The painting remained in the same family for more than a century, until it was purchased by the Hydes from the 8th Marquess of Lansdowne in 1952.