Gérôme conistently returned to the subject matter of this work during his career and his companions' descriptions of his enthusiasm for the desert, combined with his adventurous spirit, account for the dominant theme of Orientalism in his oeuvre.
"Gérôme seems born for these didtant voyages to which one must bring vigour of body and decision of mind. Always up, always alert and indefatigable, he commands the caravan with an authority which no one contests. The first to rise in the morning, he superintends the departure; then, erect in his saddle, he keeps going through the long hours, smoking, hunting, tracing with a rapid stroke in his sketchbook a movement or a silhouette. Scarcely arrived at a camp, behold him commencing a study - neither rain nor wind having the power to move him from his camping stool. Then, his palette carefully wiped and the brushes thoroughly cleaned what a delightful companion at the table under the tent!" (Frédéric Masson, Figaro illustré, July, 1901)
In 1868, Gérôme set out on a great safari for the first four months of the year along with the journalist, Masson, the painters Paul Lenoir and Léon Bonnat, as well as the physicain Dr Journault. The latter commented that as the trip was likely to be Gérôme's last at the age of forty-four, he gathered as many images on paper of the journey, which led him from Cairo to Jerusalem. Gérôme however continued to travel to the region throughout his life, although it is unclear from his records whether he ever visited Algeria, or whether the composition is imaginary. In any case the inspiration for our work is likely to have emanated from the sketches which he made during this trip, capturing the immediacy and accuracy of detail as though recorded on the spot.
Caravan ('A Journey through Algeria') is comparable to two other works from late in Gérôme's career - Leaving the Oasis (Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio)(op. cit., p.302, no.545, illustrated) and Caravan (Private Collection)(op. cit., p.302, no.546).