Ellen Epps was the daughter of the Dr George Napoleon Epps, a surgeon and early practioner of homeopathy. In the early days of her marriage to Edmund Gosse, the critic and man of letters, in 1875, she lived with her sister Laura, who had married the Dutch painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema in 1871. Alma-Tadema met Laura at a dance given by the Madox Browns on Boxing Day 1869, and according to the art dealer Ernest Gambart, fell in love at first sight. He courted her by teaching her to paint, and they collaborated on decorating a screen depicting various members of the Epps family (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London). In homage to her husband's homeland, Laura later went on to paint domestic scenes of children in 17th Century Dutch costume, in interiors evocative of those of Vermeer.
One of the Alma-Tademas' most interesting artistic collaborations were the interiors they created, first at Townshend House, opposite the North Gate of Regent's Park, and then at 17 Grove End Road, St John's Wood, the former London house of James Tissot. These were recorded in a series of works by various members of their family, notably their daughter Anna. The present picture depicts Laura, 'aesthetically' dressed in a loose, uncorseted robe, returning cloths to a 17th Century Dutch linen press. Her husband's collection of 17th Century portraits, and eastern ceramics is evident, displayed against what might be Morris's pomegranate wall paper (chosen by Laura for her studio in the house) and a distinctive matting dado, then much in favour with those of advanced taste, such as the Ionides family of Holland Park.
The picture comes from the collection of the Hague School painter H.W. Mesdag, but was retained by the family after the foundation of the Mesdag Museum in The Hague.