Lear visited Greece and the Greek islands many times, making so many compositions of various sites throughout the country that he lamented at one point that he would only be remembered for his Greek views. He first visited Greece in the 1840s, and for long periods of time in the late 1850s and early 1860s made the island of Corfu his home base. In 1864 he voyaged to northern Greece to sketch Mount Olympus -- the subject of this oil sketch and the highest mountain in the country, located between Thessaly and Macedonia. He described his journey in his diary:
'Starting at about seven, we held a southward course; the plain was one unvaried green undulation. Larissa, and even Olympus, except now and then its highest peaks, are soon lost to sight -- and it is only from some eminence -- that anything like a satisfactory drawing can be made -- yet the very simplicity, the extreme exaggeration of the character of a plain is not without its facination; and the vast lines of Thessaly have a wild and dream-like charm of poetry about them, of which it is impossible for pen or pencil to give a fully adequate idea.' (Journals of a landscape painter in Albania, pp. 416-417).
A preparatory sketch in pencil, pen, ink and watercolor, made in situ during the 1849 visit described above, and now in the Houghton Library at Harvard University (see P. Hofer, Edward Lear as a landscape draughtsman, Cambridge, 1967, pl. 49) was the basis for Lear's oil sketch made some fifteen years later. The composition was also the basis for an illustration done by Lear in 1885 of one of Tennyson's
poems. Re-using earlier sketches for later studio compositions was typicial of Lear's working method.