Miss Margaret imThurn was painted at the request of her parents John Conrad, a banker, and Sarah Maria imThurn. Margaret was the second of eight children and the eldest and purportedly the most beautiful of the four daughters. One of her brothers became a Vice Admiral and served on H.M.S. Hood when first commissioned. Her uncle was Sir Everard imThurn, the Governor of Ceylon, Fiji and British Guiana.
Dicksee came from an artistic family; his father, Thomas Francis Dicksee, his uncle, brother and sister were all painters and exhibited at the Royal Academy. Like many other artists of the time, they lived in Bloomsbury, where Dicksee attended the Rev. George Henslow's school.
After a year working with his father, he entered the RA Schools in 1870, being taught by Millais and Leighton and proving a model student who won gold and silver medals. He also had a formative period assisting Henry Holiday with stained glass. In the 1870s and 1880s much of his creative effort was chanelled into illustration, both for magazines - Cassell's, the Cornhill, the Graphic, etc - and books, notably Longfellow's Evangeline (1882) and two editions of Shakespeare's plays (1883-92), all published by Cassell's. A number of these designs were later developed as easel paintings. He began to exhibit at the RA in 1876, and it was always his spiritual home, although he supported the Grosvenor Gallery and other institutions. His name was made with Harmony (Tate), exhibited in 1877; a winning combination of sentimental theme, 'aesthetic' decor and academic technique, it was hailed as the 'picture of the year' and became one of the first works bought for the Chantrey Bequest. He was elected ARA in 1881 and RA ten years later. In addition to literary and historical subjects, he specialised in scenes of social drama such as The Crisis (1891; Melbourne) and The Confession (1896; private collection). Many of his pictures were widely disseminated through engravings, and in 1900 he scored another great success with The Two Crowns (Tate), which again became a Chantrey purchase. However, the fashion for such costume pieces was waning, and increasingly he turned to portraiture and landscape. Never marrying, he settled in 1898 at 3 Greville Place in St John's Wood, then so popular with academic artists. In later years he received many honours, both at home and abroad. The climax of his career was his election as PRA in 1924 in succession to Sir Aston Webb. He held the post with distinction and tact, and it brought him a knighthood in 1925 and a KCVO two years later.