For most of his career, Lawrence starred in the Royal Academy exhibitions as a portrait painter. He became President of the Academy and, like his predecessor Joshua Reynolds, would have developed his ambitions as a history painter had patronage allowed.
This early work was exhibited in 1791. It was painted for the connoisseur, Richard Payne Knight, and its subject and style were calculated to suit his classical taste. In a woodland glade, the Greek poet Homer is shown reciting his Iliad to an admiring audience. The nude youth in the foreground was drawn from a famous pugilist named Jackson.