Wollaston’s arrival in New York from London in 1749 introduced to the colonies a new style of portraiture characterized by rich, brightly colored fabrics and sprightly, informal poses. The prominent West Indian merchant William Axtell (1720–1795) ordered this portrait for the larger of his two New York homes: the country place called Melrose Hall in Flatbush, Long Island (now Brooklyn). During the Revolutionary War, Axtell was commissioned by the British as a colonel for the corps of Long Island Loyalists. His American holdings were confiscated in 1784, after he fled New York for England.
William Axtell, Flatbush, New York, until 1784; his adopted daughter, Mrs. Aquila Giles, Flatbush, New York; her son, George Washington Giles, until 1855; William Ogden Giles, New York, 1855; Catherine G. Giles, New York, until 1917; Silas Blake Axtell, New York, 1917–1926; with Vose Galleries, Boston, 1926–1927; Clarence Dillon, Far Hills, New Jersey, 1927–1976