By the time the young Weeks travelled to Morocco he was a already a seasoned Orientalist painter-explorer. Between 1870 and 1872 he made several journeys to Egypt and the Holy Land, returning to America in 1871 for a brief period to marry, and to work up the sketches of his travels into finished paintings, which he sold very successfully through the Boston Arts Club.
Thereafter, Weeks adopted a closer focus on North Africa, particulary Morocco, abandoning his Boston home for Paris where, with Frederick Bridgeman, he studied under Gérôme and Léon Bonnat at the École des Beaux-Arts. He never returned to the United States on a permanent basis, though exhibited there often, and wrote of his exploits in various American magazines.
It is thought that Weeks spent up to six years in Morocco on several extended trips between 1872 and 1880, often in the company of his wife, with occasional trips back to Paris, where he exhibited at the Salon, and to Boston, where he again enjoyed commercial success with the exhibition of recent works at the Noyes and Blakeslee Gallery in Boston in 1877.
The present work is one of Weeks' earliest treatments of the caravan subject, a theme to which he would return often. While Weeks' brand of Orientalism was largely based on a Realist approach, several factors suggest that his aim in the present work was to build an invented narrative of great drama. Even though slavery was not abolished in Morocco until 1930, the slave caravan would have been an unusual sight in the country in the late nineteenth century, and does not appear in any other known work by the artist; further, the presence of a skull in the left corner acts as a memento mori rather than reflecting a sight the artist would likely have seen. The sense of pathos is reinforced by the atmosphere of oppressive heat, which bears down upon the unfortunate captives. The individual motifs of the composition, however, are clearly based on observed studies, which gives the appearance of verisimilitude: the richly textured fur of the camels, the embroidered saddles, the carefully studied effects of light and shadow, and the sweeping composition, are all very characteristic of the artist.
The present work will be included by Dr. Ellen Morris in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist.