Shannon was born in America. He moved to Canada as a child and left for London in 1878 at sixteen to attend the National Art Training School at South Kensington. As Barbara Gallati has noted, Shannon's teacher, Sir Edward John Poynter, studied in the atelier of Charles Gleyre. Shannon, therefore, benefited from his teacher's interest in the French method of drawing and painting from a live model ("James Jebusa Shannon," Antiques Magazine 134 [November 1988}: 1135). As an aspiring young art student, Shannon was awarded the opportunity to paint a portrait of one of Queen Victoria's attendants, the Honorable Horatia Stopford. The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881 at the Queen's request, and catapulted Shannon into the English artistic limelight.
"Portrait of a Dutch Girl" dates from the period 1891-1896. It was painted during the course of one of Shannons regular summer visits to the flourishing Dutch art colony in Egmond aan Zee, where he was a close friend of the American expatriate painter George Hitchcock. Like John Singer Sargent, Shannon's sitters are usually the epitome of wealth and elegance. This work features a portrait of Shannons Dutch-born servant Dirkje. The artists energized brushstroke, transcription of fabrics and textures, along with the individualization of the figure underscore Barbara Gallati's observation that Shannon creates not "just a likeness but an image of beauty" (Barbara Dayer Gallati, op. cit., p. 1138). During the period 1880-1900, Shannon explored a variety of styles and subjects, and this and several other works dating from the time are distinguished by their mood and psychology.