PROVENANCE: with The Fine Art Society, 1961
The sitter appears to be wearing a chain around his neck and is carrying a farm implement, indicating that he was a slave occupied in picking dates. Painted on paper, it was probably done from life.
Muller was one of the first European artists, along with David Roberts, to travel to Egypt. Arriving in Cairo in 1838 he was immediately captivated by the exotic colours and rich vitality of the street life and wrote in his Artist's Tour of Egypt (Art-Union, September 1839) that the slave market quickly became 'one of my most favourite haunts.' He spent many hours sketching there, as slaves were brought before the prospective buyers, often being mistaken for a buyer himself. He described the scene: 'The market is held in an open court, surrounded with arches of Roman character. In the centre of this court the slaves are exposed for sale, and in general to the number of thirty to forty... the scene is of a revolting nature, yet I did not see, as I expected, the dejection and sorrow I was led to imagine...."
Following his return to England in 1839, and in the last years before his death in 1845, at the age of just thirty three, Muller exhibited a number of different paintings of the slave market and of Cairo street life at the Royal Academy and British Institution.