The sitter is Hester Fortescue, eldest daughter of Hugh Fortescue (1753–1841), later first Earl Fortescue, and Hester Grenville (died 1847), who wed in 1782. She married Peter King (1776–1833), seventh Baron King, in 1804, and died in 1873. Her husband sat for Hoppner in 1805 for a head-and-shoulders portrait (location unknown), of the same size as this one, that the artist exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1807. The present, unfinished canvas probably dates also to 1805, the year after the couple’s marriage. McKay and Roberts (1909) assume that a portrait of Lady King included among "Unfinished Paintings and Sketches in Oils, chiefly Portraits of the Nobility and of Ladies of Fashion" in Hoppner's estate sale in 1823 actually refers to a Mrs. King, but it seems reasonable to suppose that this is the portrait in question.
The present canvas, a good example of how Hoppner began work on a portrait, probably represents no more than one or two sittings, after which it was abandoned.
[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]