Lawrence depicts the 16-year old Emily Lamb as though in motion, her head turning back towards the viewer. The pose is one with a long tradition in the history of portraiture, but Lawrence treats it with a freshness reflected in the informality and economy of his brushwork.
The painting was commissioned by Emily’s father, Peniston Lamb, 1st Earl Melbourne, who can also be seen in the Gallery represented in Stubbs’s, The Milbanke and Melbourne Families, of about 1769.
Emily Lamb went on to become an influential, politically prominent society hostess, first marrying Peter Leopold Clavering-Cowper, 5th Earl Cowper. After his death in 1839 she married Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, who served twice as Prime Minister between 1855 and 1858 and again from 1859 to 1865. Her brother, Viscount Melbourne, also served as Prime Minister.