Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) was one of the greatest men of letters of the 19th century. Born in Dumfriesshire to a family of agricultural labourers, he entered Edinburgh University at the age of 15 and thereafter contributed reviews on German literature to various Scottish publications. He moved to Cheyne Row in Chelsea in 1834 where he wrote his celebrated work on the French Revolution.
Walter Greaves, a neighbour of Carlyle's at Lindsay Row (now 104 Cheyne Walk), was the son of a Chelsea boat builder. Greaves progressed from boatman to Whistler's studio assistant and pupil. The present drawing predates a full-length oil, completed in 1872 and exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924.