Originally a student of law, Beechey turned to painting in the 1770s and seems to have studied under Johan Zoffany. Early works, such as conversation pieces, show the influence of his teacher. Beechey was a prolific artist, although portraits by others have often been wrongly attributed to him.
There is little information available on this painting. Miss Abernethy was the sister of the famous doctor, John Abernethy, but the background to this commission is unknown. A Beechey portrait of Miss Abernethy was exhibited at Colnaghi’s, London, in June 1904. It was presumably this work. The SANG files have a transcript of a letter (undated, but sometime in 1976) from Colnaghi’s librarian, in which it is noted that the dealers sold this work to a ‘G. Saltring’ in the same year. This is presumably a misspelling of the name of George Salting (1835-1909), the famous art collector. Further details of provenance are absent.