Picture the Victorian parlor, that crowded room, overflowing with horsehair sofas, a shawl-covered piano, perhaps a stuffed bird under glass, certainly a multitude of lace doilies and china brick-a-brack, dark engravings on the walls, and copies of the Bible, Shakespeare, a ladies' annual, and several picture books on the many tables.
Here the family gathered to read and sew in the evenings or to entertain friends. Lacking our modern enticements--television, computer games, and movies--the Victorians turned to reading aloud and looking at pictures for entertainment.
Shakespeare, the great national poet, provided inspiration for some of these. The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare's Heroines is just one. The Graphic magazine, a popular London publication with a circulation in the hundreds of thousands, commissioned a series of twenty-one paintings of Shakespeare's heroines by some of the leading artists of the day, including both Laura Alma-Tadema, the only woman artist represented, and her husband Sir Lawrence.
The paintings were displayed in a London gallery around 1888 and reproduced as double page centerfolds purchased with the magazine. They were also sold in portfolio editions that could be viewed on a table or individually framed.
The Folger has sets of both the larger, black and white and smaller colored goupilgravures. A contemporary reviewer praised the set as "one of the most sumptuous and ... most artistic publications that we have lately seen."