Grant painted this in the spring of 1912 as part of an abortive decorative scheme for Newnham College, Cambridge. His cousin, Pernel Strachey, had been a student there and later became its Principal. Grant based the Queen of Sheba on Pernel Strachey, and King Solomon upon her brother, Grant’s great friend the writer Lytton Strachey. Lytton had a long square-cut auburn beard at this time, and Grant gives this physical attribute to King Solomon. Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet had been giving performances in London and Grant’s costumes probably owe a debt to this Russian influence. Also Karl Goldmark’s opera The Queen of Sheba was premièred in London in the winter of 1911.