Gustave Dor's work found a particularly receptive audience in Victorian England. If his success as a book illustrator in France had brought the artist fame under the reign of Emperor Napoleon III, it was in England that his talent as a religious and social painter was recognized. On his first trip to London in May 1868, his friend Blanchard Jerrold, a journalist at the Illustrated London News, took the artist on a tour to the slumbs of the East End. Both undertook the project of a series of illustrations which would reveal the harsh and highly contrasted reality of London life. On his return to Paris, Dor found it difficult to translate his impressions on the printing block. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 delayed the project, and it was only in 1871 that Dor returned to London, put under pressure by his editors. The title of the book was meant to be London, a Pilgrimage and it was indeed an arduous task imposed on the artist, visiting White Chapel, Holborn and Lambeth, disguised in rags and protected by two undercover policemen. The result was a book, in which the scenes from the fashionable world are all bathed in bright lights, in sharp contrast to the popular scenes all set at night.
The present drawing, executed on four joined wood blocks, offers a rsum of Dor's poetical approach to human misery. The brutal depiction of homeless existence is here enobled by sleep, night, starry skies and the tips of ship's masts anchored at the docks beyond. The architectural setting of a parapet on the London bridge is here ironically reminiscent of the Olympian semicircle of academic apotheosis.
Dor treated the subject, with variations, in three etchings, but none of them captures well the emotion of the woman assuming the pose of a reclining deity, giving to the group the mock arrangement of a temple pediment.