Elizabeth Johnson was the first wife of Samuel Moody. She died, aged 26, in December 1782 leaving two sons, Samuel, then twenty months old, and Thomas, eight months. Thomas inherited this portrait and left it to the Gallery.
The painting is typical of Gainsborough’s late manner, where glamorous women walk through sketchy landscapes in superb costumes. Dated c.1778-82, the boys seem older than their ages at the time of their mother’s death. X-rays confirm that they were added later – originally she was on her own, toying with her pearls. The two shadowy feet peeping from under her skirts show the changes Gainsborough made to accommodate the new composition.