Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) was an English landscape and portrait painter, one of the great English masters. He was born in Sudbury, Suffolk in the family of a clothier. At the age of 13 he was sent to London to study art. He spent several years working in the studios of different artists, one of whom was Hubert Gravelot, a draughtsman and engraver, another one was a scene-painter and illustrator Francis Hayman.
In 1760 Gainsborough decided to move to Bath, where it was possible for him to have portraits commissioned by the much wealthier and nobler persons. Gainsborough became well-known there and since then always had a lot of sitters including the future George IV. In 1774 he moved to London. He was an established master by then and painted a lot of noblemen and women.
He then met James Christie Sr. who established his own auction house in 1776 and made this portrait of him (Oil on canvas 49 5/8 x 40 1/8 in.) . In the 1920s the picture was still in the property of the Christie family : James Archibald Christie, great-great grandson of James Christie decided to sell it in 1927. The art dealer Agnew bought it for 7,200 Guineas.
During the 30s, the Art Market was depressed and Agnew could resell the picture only in 1938 to Mr Paul Getty who snapped the lot for £ 5,419 or $ 26,500 which represented at constant prices a loss of some £ 150,000. Today the picture is still the property of the Getty Center in Los Angeles.