In a career that was cut short by his untimely death, the Bristol born artist William James Müller travelled extensively in search of inspiration. Aside from tours within the British Isles, he spent seven months on the Continent in 1834, visiting Belgium, travelling up the Rhine to Switzerland, and then on to Italy. Four years later in 1838, he travelled to Greece and Egypt, arriving in Egypt only six weeks after David Roberts, the first significant British artist to visit Egypt, and in the summer of 1840 he visited France.
Müller left England for Asia Minor in the second week of September 1843, encouraged by the experience and enthusiasm of the archaelogist Sir Charles Fellows (1799-1860). Fellows had recommended Lycia, from where he had only recently returned, for its beauty and picturesqueness, and invited him to accompany his fourth expedition to Turkey. Müller travelled independently of Fellows' expedition, and was obliged to finance himself, accompanied by his pupil Henry Johnson, who provided Müller's biographer N. Neal Solly with an account of the tour, which, together with letters written by the artist, give a detailed picture of the journey. They travelled by way of Paris, Lyons, Marseilles and then Malta, arriving in Smyrna (modern Izmir) on 4 October 1843. They stayed nearly a month in Smyrna, awaiting travel permits from Constantinople and obtaining neccessary provisions for the rest of the trip, before travelling to Rhodes and then on to the site of Xanthus, the ancient capital of Lycia, where they met up with Fellows' expedition, on 22 October. Müller remained independent of Fellows' expedition, which was encamped in the ruins of the ancient city, and was therefore free to sketch whatever he pleased and his sketches reflect the fact that he was more inspired by the grandeur of the magnificent local scenery than by the individual ruins themselves. He remained at Xanthus for three months making excursions up the valley to Tlos, Pinara and Telemessus, before leaving for Rhodes, arriving back in England in May 1844.
Tlos, one of the prinicpal cities of ancient Lycia, which lies on the east side of the Xanthus valley, on the spur of the Massicetus mountains, particularly inspired Müller and he stayed there ten days. He occupied part of the citadel inhabited by the local chieftain, sketching the ruins and tombs at close range and from afar against the backdrop of the mountains on both sides of the valley. This view shows the side of the acropolis which dominated the ancient city with its perpendicular rocks honeycombed with rock tombs.
The impact of Tlos on Müller and his young pupil is well expressed in Harry Johnson's recollections of the artist's visit to the ancient city:
'Directly Müller found his position secure, he was at work again with renewed energy, amidst scenery more wildly picturesque and romantic than I ever recollect to have seen since. Imagine a precipitous crag, a lower spur of the mountains thrust out into the valley, about which it rose a thousand feet or more, backed by the snow-capped range of the Massicetus, and crowned with the ruins of an ancient Greek city, out of which grew as it were the grey walls of a medieval castle; clothe the sides of this crag with myrtle, wild olive, and arbutus, and stud it with the sculptured monuments, columns, and triumphal arches where it slopes smoothly to the valley, place a noble theatre, whose gleaming marble seats remain but little injured by the twenty centuries that have passed since they echoed to the applause of an audience, then fill the air with the music of dancing streams on their way to the valley below and you will have a faint idea of the situation of the ancient Tlos.' (Solly, op.cit., p.211).
On his return to England Müller used the many sketches that he had made in Lycia as the inspiration for several large canvases which were to make him famous and to bring him many commissions, some of which he exhibited in 1845, but many of which he was unable to fulfil on account of his premature death. His Lycian sketches, which are among his finest, were exhibited towards the end of 1844 under the auspices of the Graphic Art Gallery to great acclaim.
Carl Bolckow, who lent this picture to the exhibition at Manchester in 1887, was the nephew of Henry Bolckow (1806-78). His uncle had been born in Mecklenburg but became the first Mayor of Middlesborough and was one of Teeside's foremost ironmasters and steelmasters. Henry Bolckow built Marton Hall, near Middlesborough, which his nephew inherited after his death, in 1878 (along with the chairmanship of Bolckow, Vaughan & Co. Ltd). The house contained a collection of contemporary British art, by artists such as Landseer, Herring and Ansdell. In 1888 Carl Bolckow sold Marton Hall to the shipbuilder Raylton Dixon and the celebrated art collection that his uncle had formed was dispersed in a sale at Christie's the same year. The house was eventually given to Middlesborough Corporation in the 1920s and later burnt to the ground in 1960. Carl Bolckow is perhaps best known as a collector of memorabilia of Captain Cook, who had been born in a cottage at Marton, much of which was sold in 1923. The picture was later in the collection of the prominent Bristol businessman Sir Francis Cowlin, 1st Bt. (1868-1945), who was the principal partner of his family's firm of building contractors (William Cowlin and Sons) which was responsible, among other important works, for the restoration of Bristol Cathedral in 1892. Cowlin, who was notable patron of the arts in Bristol, presented the picture to the Bristol Club in 1937.