The sitter was the third son and only surviving child of Thomas Graham of Balgowan (d. 1766) and his wife Lady Christian Hope, 6th daughter of Charles Hope, 1st Earl of Hopetoun. He married in 1774, Catherine, 2nd daughter of Charles, 9th Lord Cathcart, whose elder sister, Jane, was simultaneously married to John Murray, 4th Duke of Atholl. His wife's renowned beauty is recorded in the full-length portrait of her painted by Thomas Gainsborough, not long after their marriage, and exhibited by him at the Royal Academy in 1777, no. 133, now in the National Gallery of Scotland (see E.K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London, 1958, nos. 322 and 323). His married life was spent between England and the Mediterranean as his wife's frail health demanded. While in England, he was content with the life of a country gentleman,at first at Brooksby in Leicestershire and later at the estate of Lynedoch near Perth, purchased in 1787. This part of his life however came to an abrupt end with the tragically premature death of his wife in 1792. It was perhaps this, together with the outbreak of hostilities with France, that turned him toward the military career for which he is most remembered. The summit of his military achievement undoubtedly came in the Peninsular Campaigns between 1809 and 1813. His victory against the French army blockading Cadiz at the Battle of Barossa, on 5 March 1811, for which he was awarded the medal he is seen wearing in this portrait, was particularly notable. He also played an important part, serving under Lord Wellington, as a Lieutenant General, in the advances of 1812 and at the great Battle of Vittoria, 13 June 1813, in which he commanded the entire left wing of the army, some 40,000 men. He was invested a Knight of the Bath at Elvas, near Badajos, on 12 March 1812.
Alongside his military career Graham took an interest in politics and represented the county of Perth in Parliament between 1794 and 1806.
With the conclusion of peace in 1814 he returned to England and was created Baron Lynedoch of Balgowan the same year. Between then and his death in 1843 he once again occupied himself with agricultural improvements on his estate. He also devoted himself to the foundation of a military club, on the principle of civil clubs then in existence, which he achieved in 1817 when a site on Pall Mall was secured and the foundation stone of what is now the Senior United Service Club was laid. On his death he was succeeded by his cousin John Murray Graham.
Lawrence painted four other portraits of the sitter: a smaller portrait, (30 x 25 in.) recorded in an engraving by T. Blood of 1811, the whereabouts of which is unknown; a full-length portrait exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1817 (no. 68) which was purchased from the artist by the 1st Duke of Wellington and is now in the Wellington Museum, Apsley House, London; a larger version of which is in the Perth Art Gallery and Museum; and a full-length painted for the United Service Club c. 1820.
This picture was bequeathed by the sitter to his close friend Admiral Sir Charles Ogle, 2nd Bt. (d. 1858), of Worthy, Hampshire, who was the 3rd son of Admiral Sir Chaloner Ogle, 1st Bt..