Born into a Dorset Catholic family, Hussey was a pupil of the elder Jonathan Richardson (1667-1771, see lot 108), Francesco Riari and Vincenzo Damini (d.c.1749). In Rome from 1730 to 1737, it is believed that he may have served as private secretary to The Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), who was born there in 1720. The grandson of the exiled Stuart King James II, the young prince was brought up to a life of privilege, staunchly believing that through the Divine Right of Kings he was the true heir to the throne of England that had been usurped by King William III of Orange (1650-1702), ultimately leading to a failed Jacobite uprising in 1745 and his final relocation first to Paris and then to Rome. During the 1730s Hussey became an ardent supporter of the Jacobite movement, and of Charles in particular, executing a number of portraits of the young prince. These highly detailed drawings may have served as Jacobite mascots, executed for exiled Stuart supporters on the Continent.
Traditionally believed to have been presented to an ancestor of the 1982 vendor by Horace Walpole, Sir Horace Mann, writing from Rome in 1772, had to report failure in his search for a print of The Young Pretender, undertaken on Walpole's behalf. On hearing of the failure Walpole replied 'So they do not think at Rome that The Pretender is worthy to have his face engraved!'
The portraits of Prince Charles Edward Stuart by Hussey form the most notable and accessible group of works from his time in Rome. The majority of his drawings had passed to the antiquary Matthew Duane, and in turn to the latter's nephew Michael Bray. Walpole mentions this last bequest (Letter to Sir H. Mann, 8 April 1785) and will have known of its unexpected dispersal in two London sales: Greenwood's, 24 May 1785; and Christie's, 1 May 1787 (Drawings 'collected for [Duane] by Mr. Hamilton at Rome'). Three lots in these sales account for four portrait drawings of The Young Pretender (1785, lot 106; 1787, lots 64 (2), 72).
For other known versions of the present portrait, see J. Shackleton, op. cit., 1999, pp. 42: one formerly in the Ilchester Collection is believed to have been executed in 1735 (Earl of Ilchester, Catalogue of Pictures belonging to the Earl of Ilchester at Holland House, 1904, no. 222); another belongs to the Duke of Atholl at Blair Castle (see Kerslake, op. cit., pl. 113); and another is in the Royal Collection. There is a comparable version in red chalk in the British Museum, and for a pen and ink version that was once in the collection of Lord Montague at Cowdray Park see lot 115. The composition is varied in versions at Windsor, where Prince Charles Edward Stuart is shown with the Order of the Garter, and in a private collection (reverse, also with the Garter).