Painted for the sitter, John, 4th Earl of Darnley [1767-1831], Cobham Hall, Kent; by descent to Ivo, 8th Earl of Darnley [1859-1927]; sold to (P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London), by 1909; purchased 1910 by (M. Knoedler & Co., London); sold 21 March 1910 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Works by the Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1877, no. 252.
- The Works of Thomas Gainsborough, R.A., Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1885, no. 93.
- Eleventh Annual Exhibition on Behalf of the Artists' General Benevolent Institution, Thos. Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London, 1905, no. 11.
- Paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. and J.M.W. Turner, R.A., M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York, 1914, no. 6.
The lightweight canvas is plain woven; it has been lined. The ground is white and has a pebbly quality from agglomerations of white pigment. A pinkish-brown imprimatura has been applied beneath parts of the picture, especially the coat and hair, where it contributes to the tonality. The painting is executed thinly and broadly, blended wet into wet, with glazes and scumbles and slightly impasted white highlights. The paint surface is in good condition except for some abrasion in the more thinly painted passages, where there is some broadly brushed retouching. The natural resin varnish has discolored yellow slightly; residues of an older varnish that was unevenly removed add to the somewhat blotchy appearance of the surface.
- Morning Herald, 8 April 1785.
- Public Advertiser, 13 April 1785.
- Armstrong, Sir Walter. Gainsborough & His Place in English Art. London, 1898: 194; popular ed., London, 1904: 263.
- Roberts, William. Pictures in the Collection of P.A.B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: British and Modern French Schools, Philadelphia, 1915: unpaginated, repro.
- Whitley, William T. Thomas Gainsborough. London, 1915: 238-239.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 16, repro.
- Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 5, as The Earl of Darnley.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 86, repro., as The Earl of Darnley.
- Waterhouse, Sir Ellis. Gainsborough. London, 1958: no. 184.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 55, as The Earl of Darnley.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 47, repro., as The Earl of Darnley.
- Watson, Ross. "British Paintings in the National Gallery of Art." The Connoisseur 172 (1969): 56, repro. 55.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 142, repro., as The Earl of Darnley.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: no. 500, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 357, no. 498, color repro., as The Earl of Darnley.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 166, repro.
- Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 100-101, repro. 101.