William Baillie (1723-1810), who was born and brought up in Dublin, initially pursued a career in the army but later became a well known amateur artist and engraver, art connoisseur, adviser and dealer. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin, leaving Ireland for London in 1742, with the intention of training as a lawyer. However, on coming of age in 1744, he changed course and joined the army, in which he was to serve for seventeen years, reaching the rank of Captain. Baillie's first drawings and prints date from the period between the end of the War of Austrian Succession in 1748 and the beginning of the Seven Years War in 1756, and it seems likely that he had received some initial training in topography and cartography at the Royal Military College at Woolwich. The fact that he was stationed for much of his army career in Holland and Germany seems to have given him the opportunity to acquaint himself with the art of those countries which was to influence profoundly the direction of his own work. By the late 1750s Baillie's interest in printmaking had led him to reproduce works by Rembrandt, and he came to be regarded as an expert on the artist, also acting as a dealer in works then attributed to the artist and collecting Rembrandt's engravings. Baillie also gained a considerable reputation as a connoisseur and advised several important collectors. Among the collections that he was instrumental in forming was that of Dutch and Flemish masters acquired by the 3rd Earl of Bute.
Nathaniel Hone was the best known Irish portrait painter of his generation. Born in Dublin, he trained under Robert West. However, by 1742 he left Ireland for England, where he spent most of his career in London. Baillie and Hone, who were near contemporaries, were friends in London and had certainly met by 1752 when Hone etched Robert Pine's portrait of Baillie (Butler, op. cit., fig. 2), and they may well have known each other from childhood in Dublin. Hone may have taught Baillie the rudiments of printmaking; Baillie and Hone also shared a deep interest in pictures by the Old Masters and for collecting prints, a passion which they indulged in the London salerooms. In this portrait William Baillie is shown in a Rembrandtesque manner with, and as Nesta Butler notes 'His hat and banyan, or gown, are almost direct quotes from Rembrandt's portrait etching of Cornelius Anglo' (N. Butler, op. cit., p. 188).
For a detailed account of William Baillie's life see Nesta Butler (op. cit.).