After the execution of his father for treason, James Johnston (1643-1737) played a role in William of Orange's arrival in England in 1688 and was appointed Joint Secretary of State for Scotland in 1962. When Johnston settled in Twickenham he was in political retirement. He was amongst the first during the 18th century to construct a house along the banks of the Thames in Twickenham. Johnston had obtained the lease in 1702 and, with the help of the architect John James, spent the next 35 years building himself a fine mansion and amusing himself "with planting and gardening". Johnston's estate was extensive and included the present Orleans House woodlands, most of the land up to the present Richmond Road and the river meadow, which is now a recreation ground. Johnston's celebrated garden included 2 rectangular canals, a mount with an icehouse, an avenue flanked by vines, a kitchen garden, a pleasure garden, a wilderness, a grotto and a fruit garden.
The pendant portrait is inscribed "Catherine daughter of John, 2nd Lord Poulett and wife of Mr Johnston, Secretary of State for Scotland. Mrs Beale print". In recent years, the attribution of the portrait to "The Excellent Mrs Beale", the earliest professional English woman artist, has been questioned, as has the sitter.
Research reveals that there is great confusion regarding Johnston's wife - or perhaps wives. He probably married Catherine in 1696 and later married Lucy, who is recorded as his wife in his will. The late Richard Jeffree (1930-91), a collector and expert on Mary Beale, speculated that the work was by Gibson, as Beale's last recorded portrait was painted in 1694.