In 1780 Lord Alva, a Judge of the Court of Session, became one of Allan’s first clients for a group portrait in the ‘conversational manner’ which the artist developed on his return to Scotland. During the early 1760’s the patronage of James Erskine had helped to launch Allan’s career as a portrait and figure painter. At the same time Erskine became a founder-subscriber to the building of St Cecilia’s Hall as the new premises for the Musical Society of Edinburgh. Lord Alva evidently wished to commission from Allan a musical conversation piece of the type rendered fashionable in London by Johann Zoffany. In the foreground the younger Erskines are shown performing one of the Scottish ballads which featured regularly in the weekly concerts of the Musical Society.