Probably datable to the late 1740s or early 1750s, when Gainsborough was back in his native Suffolk, the present work has traditionally been identified as a portrait of his youngest daughter, Mary. Although Mary, was born in 1748 and would have been a child at around the time that this picture was painted, the features do not correspond with known portraits of a slightly later date, such as The Artist's Daughters chasing a Butterfly of c.1756 and The Artist's Daughters teasing a cat of c.1758-1759 (both National Gallery, London).
The unfinished nature of the portrait, with its sketchy background and loose-handling of paint, as well as its scale, suggest that it was not a commissioned work. It is likely to be an informal study of the child of a relative or friend. No early provenance has yet emerged to support an identification. However, very little documentation survives from Gainsborough's life and his early work is still a relatively unknown quantity.
Writing about the portrait, Dr. John Hayes (private communication 19 September 2001), says on the basis of photographs, 'The portrait is indeed rather beautiful and, although I cannot find anything to compare it, I am convinced that it is by Gainsborough, but perhaps a little earlier than the familiar early paintings. There is no documentation of which I'm aware, and one wouldn't expect it: certainly the artist himself left no records'. On the basis of photographs, Hugh Belsey was uncertain of the attribution to the artist.