The Earl of Buchan was the founder of the Scottish National Gallery and sometimes nicknamed the ‘Antiquarian Earl’ because of his interest in the arts. He was notoriously vain and this is perhaps why Reynolds presents him here in elegant 17th century ‘Van Dyck’ dress, his tunic slashed to reveal a white shirt with lace collar and cuffs. Presented in this guise, Buchan is given something of the flamboyant elegance of Van Dyck’s highly successful court portraiture. At the same time, the use of costume from the past allowed Reynolds to confer on a ‘mere’ portrait some of the dignity of history painting (see Status of Portraiture). Delighted with his portrait, Buchan enthusiastically commissioned many copies of this work from other artists. Prints were made after it also, one of which  is in the Bailey collection.
Painted in 1764-5, the work seems to have remained in the possession of the Buchan family until 1920 when it is recorded as being on the London market. It was likely bought by Bailey in that year or soon after.