Emma Madox Brown (1829?-1890) was the artist's second wife. Born Emma Matilda Hill, the daughter of a Herefordshire farmer, she was modelling for him by 1848 and bore him a child, Catherine, on 11 November 1850. They eventually married on 5 April 1853, the wedding taking place at St Dunstan's-in-the-West, Fleet Street, with D.G. Rossetti and Thomas Seddon as witnesses.
The present drawing was clearly made to mark the happy event, being dated either 5 or 6 April 1853 (one numeral seems to have been written over the other, but it is hard to determine in what order). A drawing of Emma by Rossetti, made on 1 May 1853, less than a month later, is in the Birmingham Art Gallery (Virginia Surtees, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1971, cat. no. 272, pl. 395).
Unfortunately Madox Brown's diary (published 1981) lapses between 1850 and 1854, so it sheds no further light on the circumstances in which the drawing was made.
Emma modelled for many of Brown's pictures, including 'Take your Son, Sir' (1851-7; Tate Gallery), 'The Pretty Baa-Lambs' (1851-9) and 'The Last of England' (1852-5; both Birmingham Art Gallery). Her features, particularly her rather narrow eyes and prominent teeth, are easily recognisable. On the whole it was a happy marriage, although in later years Emma's heavy drinking caused her husband much distress.