A child in white pajamas is kneeling in prayer, with deep, earnest eyes. Doesn’t this painting look familiar? That’s right. This painting was frequently displayed in the driver’s seat of taxis or buses in the 1970s to 80s in Korea, as a symbol to “make it safely through the day.” With so many replicas, the painting was quite popular and noticeable as an everyday painting, but the original was created by a British aristocrat.
Joshua Reynolds was one of the most influential portrait painters in Britain during the 18th century. Born in the provinces, he was not formally educated but thanks to the support and help of his sisters who recognized his talent, Joshua had a successful career as a painter. Sponsored by his eldest married sister, he learned from portrait painter Thomas Hudson and travelled to Rome nine years later to study the Old Masters. After settling back in London at the age of 30, he was supported by his younger sister and concentrated only on artwork. His outstanding drawings, colors and the signature noble ambience of his paintings immediately attracted British aristocracy and he became very famous and successful. He became the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, was knighted by George the Third and joined the upper class.
Though his fame was earned from portraits of the upper class, Joshua had a natural talent for depicting figures in mythology or the Bible. The child in the painting is the Samuel the prophet from the Old Testament. Samuel, who was born after his mother’s continued prayers, was dedicated to God. The last of Israel’s judges, he was a leader that dedicated himself to the nation and his people only, without attempting to earn honor or fame. The painter portrays young Samuel to emphasize integrity, purity, wisdom and obedience of a great leader.
Perhaps the painting is an expression of the painter’s sisters who spent their lives supporting Joshua, who suffered from hearing illness. The beam of light falling through dark clouds represent the answer to Samuel’s prayer. The painter himself must have prayed many times throughout his life encountering obstacles: perhaps to make it safely through the day.