Dorothy Stables (née Papley) married John Stables, a director of the East India Company and later a member of the Supreme Council of Calcutta (1782-7), in January 1773. She is shown with two of her daughters, Harriet and Maria. Her husband returned from India after serving on the Supreme Council and from 1793 until his death in 1795 lived at Wonham House, Surrey, which he purchased from Lord Romney.
This picture, for which sittings are recorded in February, March and April 1777 and March 1778, is one of the artist's most sensitive and enchanting portraits. Painted not long after his return from Italy, it shows all the sophistication of the period in which his artistic powers were at their peak, and his reputation as a portrait painter rivalled that of Reynolds and Gainsborough. The artist's most ambitious work, The Children of The Earl of Gower, painted for Granville, 2nd Earl of Gower (sold in these Rooms, 23 June 1972, as lot 109 for 140,000 guineas), and now at Abbot Hall, Kendal, was painted in the same year.
Romney also painted a three-quarter-length portrait of John Stables (J. Ward and W. Roberts, op. cit, p.148), for which sittings are also recorded in 1777: this was sold in these Rooms, 23 June 1972, as lot 107.
The early history of this picture is obscure, but by 1890 it was in the collection of 'Mrs Addison' who lent it to the Winter Exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1890. Sir George Scharf in his annotated copy of that exhibition, which includes his sketch of the picture, notes (on p. 32) the circumstances of the sale of the picture to Baron Edouard Alphonse de Rothschild which occured shortly after the exhibition:
'... by Romney "Mrs Stables" no. 154 of the Burlington House 1890, Exhibition an early sending to Burlington House a Romney, proposed to name £500 as insurance upon it. Humprey Ward said he would give £2,000 for it Davis heard of this and said he would give £5,000 when young Agnew went to his father and asked him to allow him to offer £6,000. Davis the dealer then applied to the Lady (Mrs addison) asking her to fix a price (that he was asking for a client in Paris) but to put it in writing. She might say [£]8000. The Lady's daughter whilst she was writing said make it £8500, which was done and the dealer made £1000 profit by it.'