Rosalba Carriera played a key role in transforming pastel painting from an amateur pastime into a serious artistic pursuit. Most of her sitters were young tourists, impatient to get back to the manifold sensual pleasures readily available in Venice.
By contrast, Sir James Gray, second Baronet (about 1708-1773) was a successful British diplomat and antiquarian living in the city. Carriera thus had the opportunity to get to know him well and study his countenance over repeated sittings, resulting in a penetrating characterization virtually unmatched in her oeuvre. Her meticulous attention to detail is evident in passages such as the strands of chestnut hair emerging from underneath Sir James's powdered wig.