Throughout the twenties, Spencer Watson's portraits continued to refer to earlier styles, and with female sitters he eschewed for the most part, the modernity of bobbed hair, cloche hats and short hemlines, favoured by Gerald Kelly and others. Jazz Age frivolity was not for him. In this portrait of Betty McCann, his model is attired in a dress with billowing sleeves, similar to that worn in Victorian times while its Venetian colouring and the rich tapestry backdrop recall an even earlier era. Spencer Watson grew up at a time when art students were enthralled by the writings of Walter Pater and his influential essay on the timeless qualities of the Mona Lisa would act as an inspiration. 'It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions', Watson would have read in Pater's Renaissance (1893 ed., p. 98). Such thoughts animated works like the Portrait of Betty McCann.