Olympe Aguado's career as a photographer was devoted mainly to reproductions of paintings or 'studies from nature', mostly landscapes and photographs of animals, inspired by the paintings of Constant Troyon and Rosa Bonheur.
He is now also known for the playlets he photographed in the first half of the 1860s but did not exhibit. They are living pictures, a favourite game within aristocratic and bourgeois circles during the nineteenth century, in which the photographer staged himself with his family and friends. Here he is playing the role of the listener nodding off on the right. The women in the photograph however are harder to identify with any certainty. The one on the far left may be Emily McDonnell, the photographer's sister-in-law, and the woman dozing beside her, Bertha Aguado, the photographer's wife since 1860. The man reading aloud remains nameless.
The subjects of Aguado's tableaux vivants were the pastimes of his social milieu. Reading stands apart from the series because of its overtly humorous and irreverent tone. The artist is poking fun at the endless reading sessions that were a regular practice in the imperial court where he was a well-known figure.