About this artwork

First exhibited in London in 1838, the year of Allan’s election as President of the Royal Scottish Academy, this complex and ambitious picture confirmed the artist’s status as a pioneer of British Orientalist painting. In 1829-30 Allan had travelled to Constantinople with the ambassadors who concluded the treaty which ended the struggle for Greek independence from Turkish domination. In the central group of the painting, which was supposedly based on Allan’s direct experience, an Egyptian slave-merchant is shown selling a Greek girl to a Turkish Pasha on horseback. The melodrama of the scene with the girl being torn form her distraught family contrasts with the relaxed group of men about to be served tea. Allan brought back many Turkish items which he used when composing this picture.

Sir William Allan

Sir William Allan

Born in Edinburgh, Allan was apprenticed to a coach painter before studying at the Trustees' Academy in the city from 1799; David Wilkie was a fellow student and became a lifelong friend. Allan went to London in 1803 to continue his studies, possibly at the Royal Academy. In 1805 he went to Russia, where he was based until 1814, travelling widely in the region. On his return, he settled in Edinburgh where he painted scenes inspired by his travels as well as subjects from Scottish history and Sir Walter Scott's novels. He was appointed Master of the Trustees' Academy in 1826, elected President of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1838 and became the Queen's Limner for Scotland in 1841, the year he was knighted.