William Yellowlees was born in Berwickshire and trained under the Borders artist, William Shiels. The quality and size of his small-scale portraits earned him the nickname 'Little Raeburn'. He was a founder member of the Royal Scottish Academy and practised in Edinburgh until the late 1820s when he moved to London. There he enjoyed considerable success, attracting aristocratic clientele and exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy. He was appointed cabinet portrait painter to the King's brother, the Duke of Sussex.