In December 1866 Edward Lear left England and embarked on a tour of Egypt and Palestine. He had last visited the region thirteen years previously. However, this time he was determined to travel further afield with the ultimate aim of painting in the Nubian Desert.
Arriving in Cairo in early January 1867, Lear hired a boat to take him down the Nile. Journeying south he passed Esneh, Edfu, Philae and Wadi Halfa. On 8th
February, the date inscribed on the present watercolour, he arrived at the hugely impressive Egyptian ruins of Abu Simbel. Lear was clearly inspired by the magnificence of the great heads of Rameses II, and upon seeing them he exclaimed, ‘I nearly cried with a burst of amazement and delight – even after all I had seen and heard and read of these statues… all other visible things in this world seem to me to be as chips, or potato parings, or any nonsense in comparison'.1
1. V. Noakes, Edward Lear, The Life of a Wanderer, London 1968, p. 217