The great-grandmother of King David and hence an important figure in Christian iconography, Ruth was a Moabite woman who married a Hebrew immigrant. When she, her sister-in-law Oprah, also a Moabite, and their Hebrew mother-in-law, Naomi, were all widowed, the young women decided to accompany Naomi when she returned to Bethlehem. Naomi persuaded Oprah to remain with her family, but Ruth insisted on staying with her, saying 'Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God' (Book of Ruth, ch. 1, verse 16). In due course her virtue was rewarded when she married Boaz, a wealthy kinsman of Naomi's.
The picture was painted when the artist was thirty-two. The niece on her mother's side of J. R. Spencer Stanhope (see lot 38), Evelyn Pickering, as she was born, was determined from an early age to become an artist, braving parental opposition to enter the Slade in 1873, only two years after it opened. She was influenced by her uncle, Burne-Jones and G.F. Watts, as well as by the Italian old masters. These she had ample opportunity to study during regular visits to Italy, first when visting her uncle, a martyr to asthma, who settled at Bellosguardo, outside Florence, in 1880, and later with her husband, the potter William De Morgan, whom she married in 1887. He, too, suffered from poor health, causing the couple to spend the winter months in Italy.
Evelyn De Morgan refused to exhibit at the Royal Academy, but, like Burne-Jones and so many of his followers, she supported the Grosvenor Gallery from its opening in 1877. She also exhibited with its successor, the New Gallery, and in the provinces. Naomi and Ruth was not shown at the Grosvenor, and if it appeared elsewhere the venue has yet to identified.