This portrait of Samuel Johnson, posing with a quill and paper, was painted shortly after his famous Dictionary was published in 1755. It was made by his friend and admirer Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), who painted Johnson a number of times. This particular portrait – with its gentle features and thoughtful faraway look – is probably the most flattering.

The work was left unfinished in Reynolds’s studio until 1789, when the artist gave it to James Boswell. It was then used as the basis for the engraved frontispiece in Boswell’s celebrated Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).