The sitter is the young Jamaican, Henry Thomas, who Philpot met through his friend Oliver Messel. Messel had found Thomas wandering around the National Gallery having missed the steamer home to Jamaica. Philpot employed Thomas as his houseman and model from 1929 until the artist's death in 1937. Thomas is the subject of the majority of the artist's studio paintings after 1932, including Melancholy Negro, 1936 and Negro Thinking of Heaven, 1937 (both The Royal Pavilion, Brighton Art Gallery and Museums); and Negro sitting - Back View, 1937 (private collection).
The highly decorative quality of the present work was inspired by Philpot's friendship with Syrie Maugham, the estranged wife of Somerset Maugham, whose ventures into interior design during the 1930s were extremely popular in London society. She commissioned some of Philpot's largest later paintings, including Tropical Garden (private collection) which includes similar floral motifs and colours as whose depicted in the present work. The soft tones of these pictures perfectly suited the cool white interiors which were Syrie's trademark (see R. Gibson, Exhibition catalogue, Glyn Philpot 1884-1937 Edwardian Aesthete to Thirties Modernist, London, National Portrait Gallery, 1984, pp. 32, 144).