Thomas Seddon, ‘Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat from the Hill of Evil Counsel’ 1854–5
Thomas Seddon
Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat from the Hill of Evil Counsel 1854–5
John Frederick Lewis, ‘Edfu, Upper Egypt’ 1860
John Frederick Lewis
Edfu, Upper Egypt 1860
Sir William Blake Richmond, ‘The Libyan Desert, Sunset’ 1888
Sir William Blake Richmond
The Libyan Desert, Sunset 1888
Richard Dadd, ‘The Flight out of Egypt’ 1849–50
Richard Dadd
The Flight out of Egypt 1849–50
John Singer Sargent, ‘The Mountains of Moab’ 1905
John Singer Sargent
The Mountains of Moab 1905

David Roberts was the first professional British artist to travel independently to the Middle East in 1838–9, bringing home several hundred studies which formed the basis for paintings for over twenty years. While Roberts was able to depend upon his architectural motifs to provide structure to his compositions, those who came after him, such as William Holman Hunt and Edward Lear who travelled in the 1850s, often found it awkward to fit what they saw into the conventional formats of European landscape painting. It seemed that the ‘Oriental’ landscape had to be broken down into geometric blocks in order to accommodate the needs of the picture, or else it was stretched lengthwise to make panoramic views whose broad compass compensated for the absence of a conventional composition. The privileged view of the artist was given a new perspective with the advent of aeroplanes in the First World War.

Many British artists, especially those under the influence of Pre-Raphaelitism, looked carefully at the coloured shadows of dawn and dusk. These effects were most striking of all in the desert, which often appears not as dangerous, but as a beautiful wilderness containing places resonant with the ebb and flow of civilisations, and where night brought a particular beauty special to the region.