Ralph Thomas was a well-known lawyer who was also a picture collector and dealer. He appears to have known Millais' parents. In about 1845 he made an agreement with the sixteen-year old artist that he paint small pictures for him on a retainer of ¿100 per year. The first cheque Millais ever received for his work came from Thomas. It was a for a sum of ¿5 'for a sketch'. The arrangement lasted for two years. In the end Millais withdrew from it chiefly because Thomas appeared to be taking advantage of him. This portrait shows Thomas standing by a picture on an easel, perhaps one by Millais himself. The date on the portrait suggests that Millais kept in touch with his early patron despite the apparent animosity between them.