The sitter was a daughter of George Farran (c. 1731-1770), actor, and his wife Margaret, née Wright (c. 1732-1803). Together they established a touring company. When George died in 1770, Margaret continued to find acting work for Elizabeth and she was primarily employed as a singer under the management of James Whitley. Her first major acting opportunities were presented by Joseph Younger, manager of the Theatre Royal, Liverpool. Younger recommended her to George Colman the Elder, of the Little Theatre in Haymarket. In 1777 the Farran family moved to London and Elizabeth made her London debut in She Stoops to Conquer and went on to perform in The Barber of Seville. She also performed at Covent Garden and Drury Lane where she remained until her retirement, making occasional seasonal performances at Haymarket. She performed at Richmond House and her audience was made up of King George III and Queen Charlotte; the Prince of Wales, and members of the London social elite.
During her time in London Elizabeth met Edward Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby who was a keen amateur actor, as well as a famous patron of horse-racing (founder of the Oaks and transporter of the Derby to Epsom). On the death of the Countess of Derby, in 1797, Elizabeth announced her retirement from the stage and married the the widower Lord Derby. Later that year she was presented to Queen Charlotte who invited her to be part of the wedding procession for the marriage of Princess Charlotte, the Princess Royal.
She was painted by Thomas Lawrence and her portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1790 alongside a portrait of Queen Charlotte. Cosway painted another portrait of her, with her hand held up to her chin. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1956/57, no. 274 (lent by the Earl of Derby), alongside a portrait of her husband, also by Cosway (no. 270).