Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere (1800-1857), the father of the sitters in the present work, inherited a large fortune through his share of the Bridgewater estates. A prominent statesman and poet, he was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. After a period as a Captain in the South Staffordshire Yeomanry, he became Member of Parliament for Bletchingley, Surrey, 1822-26. An early supporter of Free Trade and London University, he was subsequently M.P. for Sutherland, 1826 and 1831, for South Lancashire, 1835 and 1837, and 1841-46. Among the posts that he held were Privy Councillor for Ireland, 1828 and Secretary at War, 1830. In 1846, he was created Viscount Brackley and Earl of Ellesmere.
Ellesmere built a large Elizabethan-style mansion, Worsley Hall, outside of Manchester to designs by Edward Blore, 1837-43. By his wife, Harriet Catherine, eldest daughter of Charles Greville, 3rd Duke of Portland, he had five sons and two daughters. The latter, Lady Alice and Lady Blanche, are depicted in this equestrian double portrait. Lady Alice married on 25 July 1854, George Henry, 3rd Earl of Strafford. Lady Blanche married on 27 December 1865, John William, 7th Earl of Sandwich.
Born in France, the son of an architect, Alfred de Dreux studied painting under Leon Cogniet. His uncle, Pierre-Joseph Dedreux-Dorcy, a painter and intimate friend of Gericault, took De Dreux frequently to Gericault's atelier whose choice of subjects, especially horses, had a lasting influence on his work. De Dreux first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1831 at the age of 21. Specializing in equestrian subjects, his work became extremely popular in both France and England. He visited the latter for the first time in 1844, where he executed a compostion of the visit of Louis-Phillipe to Queen Victoria at Windsor.
De Dreux's mature style dates from circa 1848 and the artist's return to England. Although his subjects remained the same they were characterized by less rugged settings, by luminous colour and crisp light, as seen in the present work, Lady Alice and Lady Blanche Egerton, daughters of the Earl of Ellesmere. This picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy of 1850 and helped to ensure De Dreux's status as one of the leading equestrian painters of his day. Commissioned to paint a portrait of Napoleon III in 1859, De Dreux returned to France, but a dispute arose over the price of the picture and he was killed in a duel by Comte Fleury, Napoleon's principal aide-de-campe.