The portrait is reputed to depict the actress Irene Vanburgh (1872-1949). Born in Exeter, she was Oscar Wilde's own choice for Gwendolen in the first performance of The Importance of Being Ernest. Photographs show a pretty young woman with dark hair piled high upon her head. Irene appears to read some kind of journal or paper - hinting at her status as someone with a place in contemporary culture.
A study in grey, the portrait is an exercise in aesthetic values. Gauld began his career as an illustrator, before training at the Glasgow School of Art. He worked in France for a while, before becoming a fully-fledged member of the Glasgow School. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Scottish Academy. The present work is unusual, being a portrait; Gauld was widely known as a painter of landscape and cattle.