John Crewe was born in 1742, the eldest son of John Crewe and his wife Anne, daughter of Richard Shuttleworth of Gospworth, Lancashire. His father was Member of the Parliament for Cheshire between 1734 and 1752. His grandfather, John Offley, had assumed the name of Crewe when he married into the family. Crewe was educated at Westminster and Christ Church, but before taking his degree, he left the university. He made the Grand Tour in 1761-1762 with his tutor, Dr. John Hinchliffe, later Bishop of Peterborough. They crossed the Brenner from Austria in the autumn of 1761 and travelled by way of Verona, Venice and Bologna to Rome, where they were from 7 to 24 December. In January 1762 they were in Naples, before returning to Rome in February: they left in April, visiting Florence en route for Venice, returning to Florence and finally making northwards by way of Turin. The erroneous date, 1760, on this picture is an indication of muddle on the artist's part, and his inability to deliver commissions at speed. While in Venice, Crewe met the elderly Canaletto, and bought from him one of his most famous pictures, the View of Whitehall (now at Bowhill; see W.G. Constable, Canaletto, 1962, II, p. 396). In 1764 Crewe was elected a member of the Society of Dilettanti, and became Sheriff of Cheshire. He was Member of Parliament for Stafford in 1765, and for Cheshire between 1768 and 1802. Although he was an infrequent speaker in the House, he was always a staunch supporter of the Whig party, and was instrumental in introducing a bill for disfranchising officers of customs and excise. Crewe was considered a very enlightened agriculturalist and a good landlord. In 1796 he was created Baron Crewe of Crewe. He died on 28 April 1829.
In 1766 Crewe married Frances Anne, only daughter of Fulke Greville. Mrs, later Lady, Crewe was one of the most beautiful women of her day. She was renowned for the lavish parties and entertainment that she organised, both at Crewe Hall and her villa in Hampstead and all the most famous political, musical and artistic figures of the time were frequent visitors. Sheridan dedicated The School for Scandal to her, and Fox wrote verses in her honour, which were printed by the Strawberry Hill Press in 1775. She died on 23 December 1818. Reynolds painted her three times, and all the portraits were engraved.
This picture, of which a copy formerly at Mount House, Alderley, Gloucestershire is recorded by Clark, is an accomplished example of the three-quarter-length format which Batoni developed, using canvasses of a standard Roman size, somewhat taller and marginally narrower than its English 'half-length' (50 by 40 in.) counterpart. The earliest recorded example - in fact the earliest of the artist's extant Grand Tour portraits - is the Joseph Leeson of 1744 at Dublin (Clark, no. 87) and in 1750 and 1752 Batoni used canvasses of the same format horizontally for double portraits (Clark, nos. 123 and 162). As such portraits as those of the 3rd Duke of Richmond, 1755 (Clark, nos. 188 and 189), Richard Milles (London, National Gallery, Clark, no. 211), Edward Dering, later 6th Bt, 1758-9 (Clark, no. 216) and Sir Richard Lyttleton of 1762 (Hagley, Clark, no. 244) demonstrate, Batoni had come to realise that the three-quarter-length format could be used as eloquently as whole length for statements of Grand Tour sophistication by the time he received the commission for this portrait. The bust of Minerva shown on the left was one of the artist's more popular studio props, appearing first in the whole lengths of the 8th Earl of Thanet and the Duke of Württemberg of 1752 and 1753-4 (Clark, nos. 122 and 178): it was used in three-quarter-lengths of Sir Robert Davers, 5th Bt of 1756 (Clark, no. 197), Principessa Giacinta Orsini Buoncompagni Ludovisi, Duchess of Arce (Clark, no. 206), John Stewart of Killymoon (Belfast, Clark, no. 316), Thomas Peter Gifford (Clark, no. 320), in whole lengths of the 7th Earl of Northampton (Cambridge, Clark, no. 208) and Sir Sampson Gideon (Victoria, Clark, no. 305), as well as in the smaller portrait of John Monck (Clark, no. 271).