For Arthur Melville, pictures derived from French rural life were not enough. Visiting the Paris Salon of 1880 he must have been impressed by the work of Orientalists such as Benjamin-Constant and Alberto Pasini, painters who had explored North Africa and the Middle East, depicting exotic Arab and Persian subjects. In the early autumn of 1880, having returned to Scotland for the few months of the exhibition season, Melville set sail for Egypt with the idea that he would send his drawings back for reproduction in illustrated periodicals like The Graphic.
Detained in Cairo by illness and a hopeless romantic affair, Melville did not leave the city until February 1882 when he travelled by train to Suez and took a naval vessel down the Red Sea to Aden. From there he went on to Karachi, up the Persian Gulf and overland, eventually arriving in Baghdad, 'city of the Arabian Nights', at the end of April. There he remained for a fortnight before setting off on an epic journey across the desert, through the Balkans and back to Britain by August.