George Canning (1770-1827) served as Tory Prime Minister from April to August 1827. Born into an Anglo-Irish family in London, he was raised as a ward of his uncle, Stratford Canning, after his father died in poverty and his mother became an actress. Although he began his career in politics with his views aligned with the Whig party, his distaste at the excessive radicalism of the French Revolution led him to seek the patronage of William Pitt the Younger and the Tory party when he entered parliament. He became a prominent figure in parliament, famed for his oratory skills, and held a variety of cabinet roles, including that of Foreign Secretary during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1809, following a disagreement over the deployment of naval troops, Canning was injured in a pistol duel with Lord Castlereagh. His policies as Foreign Secretary in the 1820s were pivotal in the independence of Latin America, recognising Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Brazil as independent countries and encouraging trade with them, and all of those countries have streets or areas named after him.
Lawrence made several portraits of Canning in different poses, but the present drawing is a study for the picture commissioned by Thomas, 9th Earl of Haddington (now in the collection of the Earl of Haddington at Tyninghame, see The Walpole Society, XXXIX, p. 48). The picture was also engraved in mezzotint by Charles Turner, and published in 1827.
Following the death of Hubert de Burgh-Canning, 2nd Marquess of Clanricarde (1832-1916) without issue, Henry Viscount Lascelles, later 6th Earl of Harewood, was the recipient of a substantial bequest. Clanricarde, Harewood's great uncle, had, in turn, been the recipient of a great many Canning items relating to his maternal grandfather the British Prime Minister, George Canning, which came to Harewood as part of the bequest. This, perhaps, sparked Lord Harewood's interest in the career of the politician and he is known to have acquired a number of Canning items on the art market in the first part of the 20th century, such as the present portrait.