Leighton was a passionate traveller, and was often drawn south by the Mediterranean sun. In 1868, the year before the opening of the Suez canal, he undertook an expedition to Egypt.
On the recommendation of Edward, Prince of Wales, the viceroy Ismail Pasha placed a steamer at Leighton's disposal. Travelling as far south as Aswan he produced a total of almost 40 sketches, of which twenty were landscapes - views of temples, the river, and distant hills. Five of which were exhibited at the Leighton exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1996 (nos. 46-50).
The present painting is, however, one of only two subject pictures he produced from this trip, the other being Eastern Slinger, a study of the attempts of Egyptian villagers to prevent birds damaging their crops, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1875 and currently untraced.
It is tempting to think that A Nile Woman was presented to the Prince of Wales to thank him for his assistance in planning the expedition. Initially exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1870, it was lent by the Prince of Wales to Leighton's Memorial Exhibition in 1897, before passing into a private collection during the twentieth century. Taking as his usual subject a single female figure, Leighton eloquently describes her drapery, but also in this picture explores the particular qualities of Egyptian moonlight, and captures the shimmering heat emanating from the village in the distance. The exoticism of the East was to permeate many of his other pictures, and find permanent expression in the memorable Arab Hall of his London house.
We are grateful to Richard Ormond for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.