Most European travellers to the “Orient” – artists foremost among them – did not see and record things the way they were but the way they saw them.
Artists travelling to the Arab and Ottoman world went there in search of light, colour and picturesque, exotic scenes. Many, having read the fanciful accounts of their contemporaries’ travels then tried to recreate their Orientalist fantasies, by now firmly embedded in the European imagination, in images. The foremost aim of many artists was to cater for the growing and profitable market created by a thirst for depictions of a distant, alluring world that promised an escape from the restrictions of conventional life in Europe; a world of romance, sensual allure and danger. Even though some artists spent many years in the Ottoman Empire and North Africa, their exposure to the realities of local life, and indeed their interest in it, often remained extremely limited; only a few endeavoured to relay an accurate, sympathetic image of the cultures among which they moved. Others, indeed, had never physically travelled to the region at all, but created their Orientalist scenes inspired exclusively by the works of others in an attempt to capitalise on the near-insatiable European appetite for the “exotic”. Their images joined the many others that did much to distort Europeans’ ideas about the East.