The sitter was the movie star Jessie Matthews, a costermonger's daughter who began her theatre career at twelve, and starred in the silent film The Beloved Vagabond at sixteen. Dubbed 'The Dancing Divinity' by her fans in the States, she was Britain's first international movie star, whilst simultaneously scooping up principal roles in sold-out plays in the West End in the mid-to late 1920s.
She fell in love with her married co-star, Sonnie Hale, on the set of Noel Coward's This Year of Grace in 1930, and soon became embroiled in one of the most public divorce scandals of the 20th century. Crowds queued outside the packed courtroom to listen to Hale's wife provide evidence of the couple's adultery; the most damning was the stack of explicit love letters from Jessie to Sonnie, which prompted the judge to pronounce her 'a woman of an odious mind', a quote used by several newspapers in the following morning's headlines. In a piece she wrote for the magazine Picturegoer in 1934, the year this picture was painted, she said 'If I ceased to be a star all that interest in my home life would evaporate, I believe. Perhaps it is the price one has to pay for being a star.'