Forbes was a self-made man. The son of an Aberdeen merchant, he began work as a coppersmith and won a government contract to sheath ships' hulls in copper. With the fortune he made, he purchased the estates of Callendar and Linlithgow near Falkirk, which had been forfeited by the Jacobite Earl of Linlithgow after the 1715 Rising. He bought the estates at auction and is said to have astounded bystanders by producing a banknote for £100,000, specially printed for the occasion. Forbes paid sixty guineas (£63) for this portrait, one of Raeburn's finest full-lengths. The artist advised him to hang the picture 5 feet above the floor and said that it was best viewed at a distance of 22 feet (about 6.5 metres).