Edouard Frédéric Wilhelm Richter was born in 1844, the son of a Dutch mother and German father. His extensive artistic education took him first to the Hague Academy, then to Antwerp and finally to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he was a pupil of both Léon Bonnat and Ernest Hérbert.
Although Richter first exhibited a still life at the Salon in 1866, progressively his work began to encompass an extensive range of subject matter that included portraits, historical genre scenes and more specifically Orientalist subjects. "These were last set in Hispano-Moor Spain or North Africa. They were often of enticing, gaudily-dressed single figures: Sultanas, slaves, Salomes, Shéhérazades and Salammbôs, in dark interiors lit by low filtered light" (L. Thornton, Women as Portrayed in Orientalist Painting, Paris, 1985, p. 249).
The famous character of Shéhérezade is the protagonist of the widely read Persian fairytale One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. As the story goes, King Shahryar, after discovering his wife's infidelity, believes all women to be inherently unfaithful and in order to protect his honor, starts murdering each wife after their wedding night - a tradition that continues for three years. As the harem quickly depletes the king's vizir tells his plight to his daughter Shéhérazade who offers herself as bride for the night. She successfully staves off the nightly threat of execution by telling a story so enticing that her would-be executioner husband so desires to hear the end of the story that he postpones the execution till the succeeding night. She avoids death by telling stories for the next 1,001 nights.
Richter's Orientalist subjects demonstrate a certain studied theatricality in the gesture of the figures and the composition, as seen in the present work, as well as an exquisite handling of the textures and colors of the Orient. Shéhérazade, seated on an elegant chaise and dressed in a sumptuous velvet and jewel-encrusted robe, gazes out deep in thought as her mind weaves another story for the coming evening.