Aikman was the son of an Angus Laird, and although he initially planned for a career in business, studying civil law at Edinburgh University, the deaths of his elder brother and father meant that he inherited his family estate at Cairnie, Arbroath, as a young man. He was then at liberty to pursue art as his vocation, and emerged as the leading Scottish painter of his generation. Aikman's early portraits show the influence of Sir John Baptist de Medina (1659-1710), and he had some initial success in London before travelling to Italy in 1707 to study the Old Masters. He returned to Edinburgh in 1711, and after the death of Medina established himself as the foremost painter of Scotland's elite.
With the backing of his patron, John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll and 1st Duke of Greenwich (1680-1743), Aikman was able to move to London in 1720 where he established himself with similar success. By 1725, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole and went on to paint other leading members of parliament and the aristocracy.
Although identified by the plaque on the frame as the 4th Viscount Falkland, the sitter for the present portrait is more likely to be Lucius Henry Cary, 6th Viscount Falkland (1687-1730).