John Phillip was born in Aberdeen and his early artistic promise was supported by his patron, Lord Panmure (1771-1852). He attended the Royal Academy Schools, London, where he became a member of the The Clique, whose members included W.P. Frith and Richard Dadd, whose younger sister he married in the mid 1840s. Phillip's early historical pictures were soon superceeded by Scottish genre scenes of everyday life, a subject that Wilkie had popularised earlier in the century.
In 1851 Phillip's travelled to Spain which provided him with the subject that he was to become most associated with and earn him the sobriquet 'Spanish Phillip'. After his second Spanish visit his work became imbued with Mediterranean light and colouring. On his return to London Queen Victoria, at the behest of Edwin Landseer, bought Spanish Gypsy Mother which was the first of several royal purchases. In 1860, the year he was made a Royal Academician, he was commissioned to paint the official marriage picture of the The Princess Royal and Prince Frederick William of Prussia in Highland Dress (Aberdeen, Town House).
With further trips to Spain Phillip's brushwork took on a new bravura and his comtemporaries considered this final phase to be his best. He made a study of Velázquez, both copying and owning the artist's work. Although undated, Figures on the 'Almeda de Hercules' Seville shows his characteristic later style with its restrained palette, confident brushwork and use of lighting to unify this busy street scene.