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.