James Ward's introduction to the art dealer and author of the 'Dictionary of Painters and Engravers', Michael Bryan, led to Bryan commissioning the artist to produce various engravings after Old Masters from his collection. The sight of Bryan's collection was a revelation to Ward who wrote in his memoirs:
'At this period I was introduced to Mr. Bryan, whose wife was sister to [Charles, 15th Earl of] Shrewsbury; the former dealt largely in pictures, and at his house I saw the finest works of the old masters. He engaged me to engrave the Cornelius after Rembrandt, the Diana after Rubens, with several others; and to paint a large picture containing himself, Mrs Bryan and children, life size.' (C.R. Grundy, James Ward, R.A., London, 1909, p. 27).
Recognising Ward's ability, Bryan commissioned him to produce a large family portrait of himself, his wife and children (now in the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle), dated circa 1798-9. The present picture, in which only three of the Bryan children are portrayed with their mother, appears to depict Henry (1786-1821), Maria (d. 1811) and Elizabeth (d. 1810) Bryan.