Benjamin West showed this painting at the second exhibition of the newly formed Royal Academy. After several years in Italy, West had established himself in London as the leading painter of subjects from classical history. His example, and the Academy's teaching, encouraged numerous young British artists to study in Italy.
His subject is an incident from ancient Greek history. Leonidas, king of Sparta, was usurped by his son-in-law, Cleombrutus. When Leonidas returns looking for revenge, his daughter pleads for her husband's life. Leonidas is moved by her tears, and commutes Cleombrutus's death sentence to banishment.