The present work was painted to commemorate the graduation of William Bowles as a Master of Arts from Oxford University on 12 July 1776. He had been admitted as an undergraduate of New College, where he matriculated as a Bachelor of Arts on 3 November 1772. He was the son of Rev. William, Canon of Salisbury Cathedral who inherited the estate of Hale (or Heale), Wiltshire from his cousin twice removed Dr. Matthew Frampton. Dr. Johnson stayed with William Bowles, who was then working as a banker in Salisbury, at Hale for three weeks in 1783. He thought it 'a place which might furnish without any help from fiction the scene of a romance', although he considered the house 'rather too modern and too convenient to seize the imagination'.