Sophy Cowan, née Gillespie, was the wife of the Edinburgh paper manufacturer and collector John James Cowan. She was born in Quebec and until she was fourteen lived mostly in New York and Staten Island. Together they had eleven children, four boys and seven girls, of whom seven survived to the couple's golden wedding anniversary in 1919.
In 1893 J. J. Cowan commissioned JW, to whom he was introduced through the Scottish painter John Lavery, to paint his portrait. Cowan sat for Arrangement in Grey and Green: Portrait of J. J. Cowan (YMSM 402) in Paris in May 1893. During the sittings, Sophy Cowan would read Treasure Island to them. Although JW accepted a cheque for 600 guineas, the portrait was never came into the possession of the Cowan family.
The Cowans' collection was predominantly made up of modern British and European art. They owned a number of works by JW including At the Piano (YMSM 24), The Thames in Ice (YMSM 36), Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea (YMSM 105), Nocturne: Grey and Gold - Chelsea Snow (YMSM 174), Nocturne: Black and Gold - Rag Shop, Chelsea (YMSM 204), Nocturne: Blue and Gold - St Mark's, Venice (YMSM 213), The Angry Sea (YMSM 282), White and Grey: La Cour de l'hôtel, Dieppe (YMSM 325), Chelsea Shop (YMSM 374), Alice Butt (2) (YMSM 438), The Little Nurse (YMSM 443), Brown and Gold: The Curé's Little Class (YMSM 455), Brown and Gold: Lillie 'In our Alley!' (YMSM 464) and The Bridesmaid (YMSM 487). They also owned drawings: Nude with parasol (M.446), A nude study (M.451), and watercolours: Amsterdam in Winter (M.877), Moreby Hall (M.908), Red and brown - Hoxton (M.1004), Note in green - The Garden Laundry (M.1007), Rose and Pink - the Mother's sleep (M.1300), Rose and Silver: Portrait of Mrs Whibley (M.1415).
Cowan, John J., From 1846 to 1932, Edinburgh, 1933.