Robert Fagan (1761-1816) was born in London, where his father, a Corkman, was a baker. He is not known to have visited Ireland, but he regarded himself as Irish, nonetheless, and painted at least one patriotic portrait, that of Margaret Simpson as Hibernia.
Fagan was educated at the Royal Academy School and afterwards travelled to Italy via Paris. He reached Rome in 1784 and lived there for most of his life. He painted portraits of grand tourists of outstanding quality and worked as a dealer and an archaeologist initially at Ostia, Italy, and later in Sicily. He was subsequently appointed Consul General of Sicily and Malta in 1809.
This self-portrait with his second wife, Maria Ludovica, Flajani, whom he married in 1801, shows her a la grecque, a style fashionable on the continent, especially in Paris, and used to evoke classical Greece, enormously admired. Fagan visited England in 1815 to paint murals on classical themes at Attingham Park, Shropshire, for Lord Berwick, whom he had met in Naples. On his return to Rome in 1816, a combination of ill health and financial reverses led to his suicide.