Like most North American artists of his generation, the Massachusetts native Franklin Brownell studied in Paris. There he met the Ottawa artist William Brymner and was recruited as Headmaster of the Ottawa School of Art in 1887. He became immensely popular with the city's collectors for his genre scenes of daily life and landscapes of the West Indies and Gatineau Hills. It is thought this portrait depicts the prominent Ottawa photographer William Topley working in his darkroom. Standing near the window, surrounded by his developing equipment, the solidly painted figure is illuminated by the transmitted light.