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James Boswell, 1740 - 1795. Diarist and biographer of Dr Samuel Johnson 1765


  • Scottish Art
Boswell's father feared that his son would be a complete failure. In the summer of 1763, under threat of disinheritance, he was sent to study law in Holland. The young man could not stay put for long and was soon visiting Berlin and Paris, meeting the philosohers Rousseau and Voltaire and befriending Corsican nationalists. He was painted in Rome in 1765. The owl above his head may be a symbol of wisdom, or it may suggest his delight in night-time activities - Boswell had many sexual adventures in Italy. On his return to Britain, he began a lifelong friendship with Samuel Johnson, a relationship immortalised in his biography, the 'Life of Samuel Johnson'. He inherited the title 'Laird of Auchinleck'.

Glossary Open


The representation of subjects or ideas by use of a device or motif to create underlying meaning. A literary and artistic movement that originated in France and spread through much of Europe in the late 19th century. There was no consistent style but rather an appeal to the idea of the artist as mystic or visionary and the desire to express a world beyond superficial appearances.



  • Acc. No. PG 804
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Size 135.20 x 96.50 cm
  • Credit Bequeathed by Captain James Wood 1912