Grme made several trips to the Middle East during his lifetime. His exposure to new and exotic scenes on these trips reshaped his choice of subject matter. His early fascination with traditional neo-classical themes was replaced by scenes of snake charmers, whirling dervishes and boshi-bazouks - all souvenirs of his many travels to this exotic part of the world. At the end of his life, Grme could boast three hundred fifty paintings depicting Orientalist subjects.
In 1856, Grme traveled for the first time to Egypt, spending four months on the Nile and four months in Cairo. He made innumerable sketches and drawings, all part of the props he would use to construct his paintings upon returning to his studio in Paris.
Grme's talent as an ethnographer - already noted by the Paris critics as early as 1855 - continued to develop. A Realist in his rigorous attention to every detail, Grme relied heavily on the use of photographs for topographical exactitude. In his choice of subject matter and composition however, Grme was freer, more poetic, as in the current painting. Here, the sinuous line of the caravan cutting across the plain is dwarfed by the colossi in the distance, a juxtaposition that adds a surreal note to the heat and dust of this exotic and barren landscape. Thebes, 419 miles to the south of Cairo and home to the modern city of Luxor, was the capital of Ancient Egypt at its most glorious. The city covered six square miles and lay on either side of the Nile. The Colossi of Mennon, 70 feet high are the last remaining guardians of Amenhotep III's great mortuary temple in Western Thebes.
One result of his Egyptian voyage of 1856 was his 1856 Salon painting Plain de Thebes, Upper Egypt (now in the Beaux-Arts Museum in Nantes, France). The present painting is a smaller sketch with slight variations.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming revised edition of the catalogue raisonn on Grme being prepared by Gerald Ackerman.