The Shafto family originated from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, living at Bavington Hall, Capheaton, where they had settled as early as 1304. In 1652 they also acquired the Whitworth Estate near Spennymoor in Northumberland and this became their principal house until it was sold in 1981. John Shafto (d. 1742), was M.P. for the County of Durham, as was his son, Robert Shafto (c. 1732-1797), immortalised in the famous northern song, Bonny Bobby Shafto, infamously used as an election ditty.
This picture was presumably commissioned from the artist by John Shafto. It seems he patronised Wootton on a number of occasions; A Welsh springer spaniel and An English springer spaniel by Wootton were sold by R.D. Shafto of Bavington Hall at Christie's on 11 November, 1994, lots 45 and 46.
John Wootton was the pre-eminent painter of sporting and landscape subjects for most of the eighteenth century. Little is known of his family, although as a young boy he may have served as a page to Lady Anne Somerset, daughter of the Duke of Beaufort, on her marriage to Thomas, later 2nd Earl of Coventry in 1690. From these families he appears to have received encouragement to take up painting, and perhaps also an introduction to his master, the Dutch painter Jan Wyck (1652-1700). Wootton was in London by 1706, and was a founder member of the Academy of Painting and Drawing in 1711. By 1717 he had been elected a steward of the Virtuosi Club of St. Luke's. Among Wootton's numerous patrons were King George II, Frederick, Prince of Wales, Sir Robert Walpole, and many of the most prominent members of the aristocracy.