Reverdy Johnson was born in Annapolis, Maryland, on May 21, 1796. He was educated at St. John's College in Annapolis, graduating in 1811, read law with his father, and was admitted to the bar in 1815. Johnson practiced law in Prince George's County then moved to Baltimore in 1817. He was elected State senator for five years in 1821, was reelected, but resigned after two years' service. In 1845, Johnson was elected United States Senator, resigned on March 8, 1849, when he was appointed Attorney General of the United States by President Taylor. He resigned as Attorney General in 1850 when Fillmore became President. In 1861, he was a member of the Peace Congress in Washington. He was appointed Minister to Great Britain in 1868, and recalled by President Grant in 1869. He died in Annapolis, Maryland, on February 10, 1876.
Stanley was a portrait and landscape painter who specialized in scenes of Indian life in the West. Born in New York, he travelled extensively throughout the West and settled in Detroit in 1834 where he took up portrait painting. After 1850 he deposited his "Indian Gallery" at the Smithsonian Institution in hopes the Federal Government would purchase it. His hopes were not realized, but he remained in Washington, D.C, for the next decade. Tragically, his collection was almost totally destroyed by fire while being exhibited at the Smithsonian in 1865.
Stanley's portrait of Attorney General Johnson was painted in 1856.