George Willison

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

About this artwork

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'.

George Willison

George Willison

Edinburgh-born George Willison was much aided in his career by his wealthy uncle, George Dempster, who sponsored his nephew's training in Edinburgh and, from 1760 to 1767, in Rome. Willison returned to work in London until Dempster, who was Director of the East India Company, secured a post for him at the court of Mohamed Ali Khan Walejah, Nawab of the Carnatic. By the time Willison returned to Edinburgh, he was a wealthy man. Willison was primarily a painter of portraits, although examples of mythological subjects are also known.