The sitter was the wife of Captain Samuel Uvedale, of Bosmere House, Suffolk, the son of the Rev. Samuel Uvedale, Rector of Barking, Suffolk, and his wife Sophia Spragge. Her husband, who was the grandson of the celebrated botanist Robert Uvedale (1642-1722), who had built Bosmere, pursued a successful naval career. He rose in the Naval hierachy being promoted to Lieutenant (1747), Commander (1758) and then Captain (1760); commanding the frigate Boreas when she served in the Leeward Islands for two years. In 1779 he was Captain of the Ajax and sailed with Rodney's fleet to relieve Gibraltar, engaging the Spanish at the battle of St. Vincent on 16 January 1780, and later, in the West Indies, taking part in the action against de Guichen on 15 April. Invalided home with despatches subsequently, he was later promoted to Rear Admiral in 1789 on the retired list on half pay.
The present portrait was most probably conceived as a pendant to Gainsborough's portrait of the sitter's husband, in which he is shown wearing the undress uniform of a Captain between 1748-67 (sold in these rooms on 15 April 1988, lot 123, for £24,000). In a letter dated 15 December 1966, the late Professor Sir Ellis Waterhouse placed both portraits at the end of the 1750s, when the artist had returned from London to his native Suffolk, establishing a portrait practice in Ipswich. The sitter's father-in-law, the Reverend Samuel Uvedale, was also painted by Gainsborough, when the artist was living in Bath (Paul Mellon collection; E. K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 2nd ed., London, 1966, p. 689, no. 94).