Sir John Lindsay was the younger son of Sir Alexander Lindsay of Evelix, near Dorloch in Easter Ross, and Emilia, daughter of David Murray, 5th Viscount Stormont. In 1756 Lindsay was made a lieutenant in the navy, and in 1757 was posted to the frigate Trent, serving on the home and West Indian stations. He was knighted on 10 February 1764 in reward for his bravery in the battle against Havana. In 1769 Lindsay was posted to the East Indies, and appointed a knight of the Bath on 28 June 1770. He was later recalled from the East Indies apparently due to the hostility of the East India Company. He was appointed Commander to the Prince George and took part in the battle of Ushant during the American War of Independence fought between the French and British fleets 100 miles west of Ushant, a French island at the mouth of the English Channel. In 1787 he was promoted to Rear-Admiral, and died in 1788 at Marlborough, aged fifty-one.
A Captain Lindsay, later Rear-Admiral Sir John, K.B., is listed as having sat for John Smart in 1781 in D. Foskett, John Smart, The Man and his Miniatures, London, 1964, p. 70. A preparatory sketch to the miniature of Rear-Admiral Sir John Lindsay 'wearing powdered wig, blue coat trimmed with yellow braid, white waistcoat and Star of the Order of the Bath' was sold Christie's, London, 29 February 1928, lot 62. A very similar smaller miniature by Smart signed and dated 1781 depicting a gentleman called David Murray, 2nd Earl of Mansfield, in naval uniform and wearing a breast-star, was in the Art Treasures Exhibition, Christie's, 1932, no. 374, illustrated in The Connoisseur, 1932, Vol. XC, p. 374.