David Allan was born in 1744 in Alloa, Scotland, and earned himself the nickname Hogarth of Scotland.
His studies began at the Glasgow Academy, where he was taught by the printers Robert and Andrew Fonlis. At the age of twenty, he travelled south to Italy and continued his education at the Academy of St. Luc in Rome. Having spent almost fourteen years in Italy, where he painted landscapes in the style of Poussin, he returned to England in 1777 and established himself in London as a portrait painter. In 1780 he moved permanently to Edinburgh, where he was made master of the Academy six years later.
Many of his portraits can be found today in museums in London and Edinburgh and a self-portrait of Allen hangs in the Scottish National Gallery.