Sir John Lees, 1st Bt., was the son of Adam Lees, of Cumnock, Ayrshire. He distinguished himself with the British troops in Germany under the Marquess of Granby, and afterwards went to Ireland as Privy Secretary to the Marquess Townshend, when Lord Lieutenant of that Kingdom, subsequently filling the offices of Usher of the Black Rod, Secretary-at-War, and Secretary to the Post Office there. He was created a Baronet, 30 June 1804. He married, Mary, eldest daughter of Robert Cathcart of Glandusk, Ayrshire, in October 1766.
Stuart painted several portraits of Sir John Lees. A variant of the present picture was sold Christie's New York, 26 January 2001, lot 66 ($46,000).