Having been awarded a gold medal and a travelling scholarship in 1913 by the Royal Academy School, Brockhurst was able to travel to France and Italy in 1914. The works of the Renaissance masters that he saw on this tour, such as Piero della Francesca, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, had an abiding influence on his development. This is especially visible in his portraits, on which his career as a society portraitist was built; they often contain an unearthly atmosphere and a meaningful landscape background depicted with a subdued palette.
The composition of this portrait of a young, fair-haired woman with a delicate red blouse and finely-embroidered black dress shows a striking resemblance to Leonardo’s St John the Baptist in the Louvre. The Baptist’s central gesture of pointing to Heaven is here replicated in a perfect mirror image, however, the meaning of the hand is different, pointing to the landscape in the background instead. The position of the index finger indicates a separation between a withered tree on one side and a blooming wisteria tree on the other. Unlike Leonardo’s St John the Baptist, the woman’s gaze is not directed to the viewer, but turns away from the pointing finger and reaffirms her belonging to the living things around her. This fugitive gaze, associated with the torsion of the figure, perhaps suggests another of Leonardo’s works, the lost Standing Leda and the Swan, known from his sketches, from written sources and from paintings by followers, and drawn by Raphael in a study in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.