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This is a version of an unfinished picture now in the Menil Foundation Collection, Houston. The existence of many versions of this work can be explained by the fact that Sir Joshua Reynolds encouraged his students to copy it. Other copies were made when it was exhibited at the British Institution in the early nineteenth century. The sitter is thought to be Francis (Frank) Barber (about1745-1801), the servant of Dr Johnson. Another possibility is that it is Reynolds’s own black servant. The original version was probably painted in the 1770s, a period at which the slave trade was still in operation in America and Europe’s colonies.

February 2010