Gainsborough painted this unflinching self-portrait for his friend, the composer and musician Carl Friedrich Abel, who died before it could be completed. In 1788, shortly before he too died, Gainsborough requested that it should be the only image of him ever to be engraved.
Not surprisingly Gainsborough makes no reference in this portrait to his membership of the Royal Academy, with which he had a notoriously difficult relationship. Instead he is dandily dressed and presents himself as an independent-minded artist-gentleman. The sketchily applied brushwork is evidence of Gainsborough’s interest in expression, movement and change rather than formality or convention.