West exhibited this picture in the Royal Academy of 1810 with the following quotation from St. Matthew's gospel:
Christ teacheth to be humble:
And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set
him by him, and said, verily I say unto you, except
ye be converted, and become little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this
little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom
of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little
child in my name, receiveth me.
(Matthew, Chap. XVIII:2-5)
This is West's third and last major composition of the subject of Christ showing a small child and there are several references to it in Joseph Farington's diary. Farington first referred to the picture in an entry on Tuesday 3rd of April 1810, which recorded a conversation with Sir Thomas Lawrence, who visited him for tea that day. Lawrence told him that West had begun the picture on 15 March that year and that it was already finished, commenting of it that 'mr West had painted one of the best pictures He had ever executed' (op. cit., p. 3625). Later, in an entry on the 6th of April, Farington recorded a visit that he made to West's studio, with Richard Westall, when they saw the finished work, which they both agreed was his 'best picture'. West mentioned to Farington that he had settled the design for the picture in a preliminary canvas, which helped him to execute the final picture more quickly, which is thought to be the picture which was sold by West Sons, Robins, London, 20-22 June, 1829, as lot 85 (whereabouts unknown; H. Von Erffa and A. Staley, op. cit. , no. 329). Following its exhibition at the Royal Academy the present picture was acquired by Richard Hart Davis, M.P., of Bristol, who formed a notable collection of pictures, for the then enormous sum of 1000 guineas. Lord Dunstaville later informed Farington that Hart Davis was 'a very fortunate commercial speculator' who 'by getting possession of all the Spanish Wool in the Kingdom ... was said to have made £200,000' (op. cit., p. 3676).