Given to the Musées Nationaux by its model, the journalist Severine, this painting and its frame are among the most remarkable works by the painter Louis Welden Hawkins. Born in Germany of English parents in 1849, he soon moved to France where he trained as a painter. He lived there until the end of his life and took French nationality. Hawkins was closely linked to the Symbolist milieu and participated in several of the exhibitions of the Rose + Croix between 1893 and 1897. With this set, exhibited for the first time in 1895, he offers not only a portrait of his model, but also a symbolic illustration of her occupation and its aims.
Indeed, although the painting alone suggests a determined modern woman writer, the representation of wheat and laurel leaves and the words Pax and Panis on the frame make Severine's commitment clear. It had begun at a very early stage when she became the secretary of the socialist journalist and writer Jules Vallès, and continued through various publications in defence of the working-class which led her to the head of the newspaper Le Cri du Peuple from 1885 to 1888.
Like his Symbolist friends, Hawkins readily referred to the old Masters, and the golden background around his model is probably to be seen as a reference to Italian Renaissance painting.