Having served his apprenticeship in his home town of Liverpool, John Gibson (d.1866) moved to London, where through connections with Lord Brougham and Messrs. Christie, Manson & Woods, he received various portrait commissions that permitted his acceptance to the Royal Academy. In 1817, the artist arrived in Rome and was welcomed into the studio of the celebrated sculptor Antonio Canova, whose personal guidance over the young sculptor's career would rapidly establish him as one of the most celebrated British sculptors of his time.
Canova's consistent teaching to 'study from nature' was fully realized in Gibson's first life-size figure, The Sleeping Shepherd Boy, which was commissioned by Lord Cavendish in 1824. It is clear in Gibson's 1818 letter to William Roscoe, nearly six years prior to the Cavendish commission, that the sculptor intended to adhere closely to his instructor's teachings: 'At present, I have in hand the model of a shepherd-boy sleeping (my own design), which I have been studying from nature' (T. Mathews, The Biography of John Gibson, R.A., Sculptor, Rome, London, 1911, p. 51.). The result of this first effort was a long and illustrious career, whose collective works ignited interest among the most sought after patrons, including several commissions for Queen Victoria. In 1830, a second figure his sleeping shepherd boy was ordered by Lord Prudhoe, who eventually became the 4th Duke of Northumberland in 1847.
The present figure, Gibson's third and final commission, was ordered in 1851 for Colonel James Lenox, a New York lawyer who had inherited a vast fortune from his merchant father. Following his admission to the bar, James Lenox traveled extensively through Europe amassing a copious number of paintings, sculpture and illuminated manuscripts which would become the focal point of a collection rivaling that of Henry Clay Frick and other major American collectors. In 1870, Lenox erected a large building on New York's Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets to house his ever-expanding collection and christened the structure The Lenox Library. In 1895, the Library was combined with the Astor Library and Tilden Trust to form The New York Public Library.