The critic for the Athenaeum noted when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1867, 'M. Mr. Stone's Nell Gwynne (444) gives us that personage bestowing an orange on an old soldier-beggar; other mendicants approach, and are painted with considerable power and feeling for character. The girl's figure is too young, her face too childish for the Nell Gwynne of repute; but both are very prettily conceived...'
Nell Gwynn (1650-87) was one of the most famous actresses of the Restoration period, and was mistress of Charles II. As a child she sold oranges outside the Drury Lane Theatre in London and became an actress at the age of 15. Her first known stage appearance was in John Dryden's The Indian Emperor (1665). She was well suited to the vivacious feminine roles common in Restoration comedies, and Dryden wrote several plays with roles especially for her. She was the mistress of the king from about 1669 until his death in 1685. Although almost completely illiterate, she was a favourite in London society, and the English diarist Samuel Pepys described her as "pretty, witty Nell." She bore the king two sons, Charles Beauclerk, created Duke of Saint Albans, and James Beauclerk.
Built to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren in 1682, Chelsea Hospital still houses veteran soldiers, each 'Pensioner' distinctive in his red uniform and tricorn hat.