This portrait of Dr. Johnson comes from a copy of A. Edward Newton’s A Magnificent Farce which belonged to the British artist and author Max Beerbohm. He has annotated it “Where is this portrait? Not in America, I do hope–for I’ve never seen it, and should like to, inasmuch as it’s far more convincing and telling than any of the others. This is the man that said those things. This is how he looked when he was saying them. This is intimately the dear man himself–not the legendary monster.”
Beerbohm was certainly a man who knew about a telling portrait. He was celebrated for his incisive and witty caricatures of his contemporaries. Unfortunately for him, his worst fears were correct–the portrait was indeed in America, in Newton’s own Samuel Johnson collection, many items from which later ended up in the Hyde Collection. The portrait, however, Newton left to Haverford College in Pennsylvania, where it currently resides. Diana Peterson of Haverford College Libraries Quaker and Special Collections Department informs me that a recent appraisal disproves the attribution of the portrait to Sir Joshua Reynolds, but it nonetheless remains a striking and very human image of Johnson.