John Cleveley was one of the most eminent maritime painters of his generation and was born and died in Southwark, London. He lived and worked in part of the Royal Dockyard in Deptford, London, and frequently combined in his paintings excellent depictions of people, topographical accuracy, architectural detail, and extensive knowledge of shipbuilding. He was an early exhibiter at the Free Society of Artists in London, and two of his three sons, John Cleveley the Younger and his twin brother, Robert Cleveley also became painters after working in Deptford's Royal Dockyard.
In this work Cleveley has adopted a conventional formula for a ship portrait, showing the vessel both from its starboard side and its stern off a fortified harbour town, possibly Sheerness. The 499-ton 'Princess Royal' undertook two voyages for the East India Company both of which visited China. The first took place between 1770-71, the second between 1772-74. The owner of the vessel was Alexander Hume while the captain on both voyages was Robert Ker. There is a similar but smaller work with minor variants in the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. It would therefore be a plausible suggestion that both of these works were commissioned by the owner of the vessel to commemorate her maiden voyage. He may then have gifted the slightly smaller version to her Captain (Robert Ker) and retained the present version for himself.