Lear first visited Egypt in January 1849, writing to Fortescue 'I strongly long to go to Egypt for the next winter as ever is, if so be as I can find a sufficiency of time to allow of my passing 4 or 5 months there. I am quite crazy about Memphis & On & Isis & crocodiles and ophthalmia & nubians, and simooms & sorcerers & sphingidoe. Seriously the contemplation of Egypt must fill the mind, the artistic mind I mean, with great food for the rumination of long years.' (Lady Strachey, The Letters of Edward Lear, London, 1907, pp. 8-9.)
His first visit was brief and he saw only Cairo and the Pyramids. However he was to return to Egypt at the end of 1853 and arrived in Cairo in December to find Thomas Seddon (1821-1856) already there and William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) expected on the next boat. Lear received an offer immediately after Christmas to travel up the Nile and Hunt and Lear never journeyed together as they originally planned. On this trip he travelled as far as Philae before beginning the return journey on the 8 February. A week later the boat arrived at Luxor and there he spent ten days exploring Karnak and the ruined temples at Thebes where he draw the present watercolour.
Another watercolour of the Ramesseum dated 20 and 21 st Februaruy was sold Sotheby's, London 1 July 2004, lot 236.
For a note on the Ramesseum, see lot 121.