Joanna Wells (née Boyce) established a reputation during the 1850s as a painter of portraits, genre and landscape. She also wrote art reviews for the Saturday Review. This painting may represent the innocent maiden from Goethe’s tragic play Faust but could also be a portrait of a nursery maid in the employ of the Wells family. The painting was started shortly before the artist’s death following the birth of her third child and is unfinished. D.G. Rossetti, who described Wells as ‘a great artist sacrificed to bringing more kids into the world’, judged the painting to be her greatest work.