While studying to be ordained, John Thomson took drawing lessons from Alexander Nasmyth in 1797, his final year at Edinburgh University. In 1805 he was transferred from Dailly, Ayrshire, to be minister of Duddingston, a village situated on the lower slopes of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh on the eastern edge of Holyrood Park and overlooking Duddingston Loch.
At Duddingston, Thomson developed a broad, romantic technique inspired by the Scottish landscape. He exhibited in Edinburgh from 1808 until his death, and intermittently in London at the Royal Academy and British Institution, becoming an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1830. He moved in a literary and artistic circle that included Sir Walter Scott, Sir David Wilkie, Sir Henry Raeburn, Alexander Nasmyth and J.M.W. Turner. Notably, contemporary portraits of Thomson show the artist in his black cleric's robes, but in the present work, he has pointedly painted himself in the plain clothes of an artist.