Edwin Long stands outside the central bloc of High Victorian classicists, and was in fact slightly older than Leighton, Poynter and Alma-Tadema. Born in Bath, the son of a hairdresser, he visited Spain in 1857 on the advice of John Phillip. He was to make two further visits, and for many years painted Spanish subjects of the type for which Phillip was famous, exhibiting them at the Royal Academy (from 1855) and the British Institution (from 1858). He is said to have studied Murillo, and no doubt this master's influence is traceable in his rather soft sense of form.
In 1874 his work took a new direction when he visited Egypt and Syria, and began to produce large historical works illustrative of the Bible and the ancient world. The Babylonian Marriage Market (Royal Holloway College) had an ecstatic reception when shown at the RA the following year; even Ruskin swelled the chorus of praise and Long was elected an ARA. The picture caused a further sensation in 1882 when it was bought at Christie's by Thomas Holloway for 6,300 guineas, a record for a picture by a living British artist which was not to be broken for a decade. Long's forays into biblical and classical history continued to be highly popular, not least because of the preponderance of pretty female protagonists, often caught up in some heart-rending scene of martyrdom which is pure proto-Hollywood. He was also in great demand as a portraitist, with a wide range of aristocratic and middle-class sitters. So successful was he in fact that he was able to commission Norman Shaw to design him not one but two houses in Hampstead. He continued to exhibit at the RA until his death, becoming a full Academician in 1881. There is a large collection of his work in the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth.
During the course of his career Long developed a close relationship with the dealer William Agnew, and in the 1880s Agnew's significantly increased their purchasing and commissioning from Long. The most ambitious of these commissions was a series of twenty three-quarter length portraits, exhibited at Agnew's in 1887 under the title The Daughters of Our Empire. Each picture took as its subject a country within the realm of the British Empire, with five paintings representing England, signifying the commercial and political importance of the nation to the Empire. The other places represented were: Aden; Bethlehem; India; Wales; Australia; Canada; Cyprus (both Ancient and Modern); Egypt; Gibraltar; Ireland; Jamaica; Malta; Scotland and Trinidad. Each of the models, in appropriate national dress, was set against a background of the country which they represented, and each picture was accompanied by a poem probably written by Long himself, or his son Maurice.
Jamaica's poem read:
'Freedom has a thousand charms to show
That slaves, however contented, never know.'
Several of the other works from the Daughters of Our Empire series have appeared at auction in the last thirty years, including The Daughter of Bethlehem, Sotheby's, London, 26 November 1986, lot 31; Cyprus: Ancient, Love's Messenger, Sotheby's, London,14 July 1983, lot 165; and mostly recently Gibraltar, sold in these rooms on 13 December 2012, lot 38.