This is perhaps the most spectacular of the group of seven portraits painted by the artist for one of his most assiduous patrons in Bengal, John Graham. These remained together until the 1937 sale.
John Graham (1741-1775), the sitter's father, was the eldest son of John Graham of Kernock, a successful Edinburgh merchant, by his second wife, Helen, daughter of William Mayne of Powislogie, Clackmannan and sister of the prominent banker Sir William Mayne, 1st Baron Newhaven in the peerage of Ireland. Like his brothers Robert and Thomas, and his elder half-brother George Graham of Kinross, M.P. (1730-1801), Graham owed much at the outset of his career in the service of the East India Company to his association with his uncle's banking house. He became a member of the supreme council of Bengal and acquired the estate of Yatton in Somerset. His wife Mary (1737-1798) was the daughter of William Shewen of Thistleboon, Swansea, who held the lucrative post of Collector of Customs.
Kettle painted a three-quarter-length portrait of the sitter's father, John Graham, in 1774-5 (Christie's, 17 June 1966, lot 71; see M. Archer, India and British Portraiture, 1770-1825, London, 1979, p. 87, fig. 42); the portrait of his wife (Christie's, 9 April 1937, lot 42; see M. Archer, loc.cit., fig 43) is of the same 50 by 40 inch format, but as both sitters are turned to the left the pictures are not strictly pendants. The present portrait is of the Grahams' eldest son John, who inherited Yatton on his father's death, while on a return voyage from India, in 1775. He became a friend of the Prince of Wales, later George IV, but his extravagance necessitated the eventual sale of Yatton, when he moved to the Hague where he became a diamond merchant. Kettle's portrait of the third son George Edward (1771-1831) is at Wimpole (the National Trust, the Bambridge Collection, D. Souden, Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, London, 1991, p.57). George Edward Graham, who owned estates in Sussex and Cambridgeshire, succeeded his uncle Thomas as Member of Parliament for Kinross-shire in 1819 and married Mary, only daughter and heir of Dr. John Fisher, Provost of Eton and owner of Merryworth, Kent. He appended by Royal Licence the surname Foster-Piggott to his own when his wife inherited the Abingdon estates of her maternal grandfather Captain Piggott. Kettle also painted the Graham's two daughters: the famous beauty Mary-Helen (50 x 40in., Christie's, 9 April 1937, lot 44), later governess to Princess Charlotte and wife of Sir Henry Watkin Dashwood, 3rd Bt., and Frances, in 1777 (full-length, 50 x 40in., now in Hove Museum and Art Gallery). Like some nabobs, Graham sent his children to school in England. John and William, their second son, began at Harrow in 1776; George Edward in 1779 and their youngest son, Robert in 1786. This portrait and the others of the Graham children, and the many conversation-pieces painted in India by Zoffany, Renaldi and other artists, have a particular poignancy when it is appreciated that in many cases the sons represented in these were to be seperated from their parents for many years.
The frame with serpentined acanthus, twined by ribbon-tied garlands and vase-capped pediment, is designed in the mid-eighteenth century 'picturesque' style popularised by the engravings of François Cuvilliés (d.1768).