Son of a successful merchant and German Consul, Herbert Schmalz was born in Ryton-On-Tyne near Newcastle in 1856. The family had emigrated to England in 1840's from Dantzig in Northern Germany. Schmalz was born into a family not unfamiliar with artistic merit as his maternal grandfather was the famous maritime artist John Wilson Carmichael (the surname he would later change his name to). Contrary to his grandfather's formative experience (his love of sea painting resulted from being press-ganged at the age of fifteen and shipped off to the Peninsula War as a cabin boy), Schmalz's artistic development was relatively conventional. He moved to London when he was seventeen and soon after joining the South Kensington Art School, he became a student at the Royal Academy. After a short period of study in Antwerp, Schmalz settled in Kensington and began establishing himself within the Victorian art scene.
Flowers of the Levant, which depicts an exotic woman of Damascus in an Arabic setting is a notable example of his oeuvre. Most of his paintings focus on classical and Orientalist themes from literature and history, with a clear Pre-Raphaelite influence. A trip to Jerusalem in 1890 and his close living proximity to William Holman Hunt and Fredrick Leighton must have been key influences. Leighton in particular, who was a close friend and tutor, had been making pictures of this type since the mid 1870s, and the striped marble walls in the background of Flowers of the Levant are a feature often evident in Leighton's works. One such picture, The Light of the Harem (Private Collection) is particularly interesting because it is an early example of Leighton using the famous artist's model Dorothy Dene. It is also likely she is the lady posing in Flowers of the Levant. Schmalz married her sister Edith two years after meeting Dorothy around 1887. He subsequently introduced the sisters into his artistic circle and both regularly acted as models. Dorothy was a particular favourite of Schmalz's as her pale looks and modest beauty made her a perfect model for his exotic subject matter.