Son of the German portraitist Leo Lehmann, Rudolf Lehmann traveled widely throughout Italy, England and France after studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris alongside his brother, Henri Lehmann (See lot 117). Between 1839 and 1846, Rudolf Lehmann lived and worked in Rome, where he painted scenes of Italian peasant life. One of his first paintings, The Spinster, received a gold medal when exhibited in the Salon des Beaux-Arts in 1842.
The present work was exhibited in 1855 at the Exposition universelle in Paris and the following year at the Royal Academy in London, and is based on the writings of Alphonse de Lamartine, widely considered to be the first French Romantic poet. Like Lehmann, Lamartine's travels to Italy during his youth would influence his work for the duration of his life. While in Naples, Lamartine made the acquaintance of a young cigarette girl named Graziella, who captured his heart and inspired at least two of his works, Confidences, of (1849), and Graziella, (1852). It has been suggested that the present work was commissioned by the blind art dealer Oppenheim during the 1850s and is based on Lamartine's Graziella. In the painting, a small audience of Italian peasants looks on as Lamartine's protagonist reads aloud under the seductive gaze of Graziella herself. Beyond them lies the Bay of Naples, inspiration for both Lamartine and Lehmann.