Susan and Ethel Wilson were the daughters of Arthur Wilson, a Hull shipowner. His house, Tranby Croft, later became synonymous with the Baccarat Scandal of 1890, during which Edward, Prince of Wales, to the despair of his mother, Queen Victoria, was obliged to appear in court.
The Prince was a frequent guest of the Wilsons, and was present at a house party given for Doncaster Races in September of that year. Another member of the party, Lt. Col. Sir William Gordon-Cumming, was accused of cheating during games of Baccarat. Gambling at Baccarat was then illegal as it was a game of chance, but for the Prince and his circle it was a favourite pastime.
Wishing to protect his reputation, and in exchange for the silence of all those present, the Prince of Wales extracted a signed confession from Gordon-Cumming never to play cards again. However, the following year, Gordon-Cumming, in an attempt to clear his name, brought a civil action against his accusers. The Prince of Wales was subpoenad as a witness, and both he and Edward Lycett Green, Arthur Wilson's son-in-law through his marriage to Ethel, gave evidence for the prosecution. Gordon-Cumming was found guilty, and all those involved, not least the Prince, achieved unwanted notoriety.
Sant made his name from painting society portraits; in 1872 he was appointed portrait painter to Queen Victoria and by 1881, the year this portrait was painted, he was at the height of his career. In the present picture he incorporates a sunflower. This would later become a leitmotif of the Aesthetic Movement which, with its doctrine of 'art for art's sake', would profoundly influence the interiors of those with advanced artistic taste across England and North America. It is fitting that the picture should, for much of the last century, have graced the Saloon of Ken Hill, one of the greatest houses associated with the Aesthetic Movement and its distinctive architecture, the 'Queen Anne' style. Built by John J Stevenson for Sir Edward Green, Bt., Ethel Wilson's father-in-law, it incorporated furniture by Thomas Jeckyll, who with Whistler later designed the Peacock Room for Frederic Leyland's great Aesthetic interior at 49 Prince's Gate, London. The furniture and contents of Ken Hill were dispersed by Christie's in a house sale in September 1999.
Ethel Mary Wilson lived from 1865 to 1934, and moved from Yorkshire to Norfolk following her marriage to Sir Edward Lycett Green, 2nd Bt.. Her elder sister, Susannah West Wilson, known as 'Totty', lived from 1864 to 1943, and married first John Graham Menzies, and later Lt. Col. Sir George Lindsay Holford.