Originally trained as a stonecarver and draughtsman, Thomas Witlam Atkinson (1799-1861) set up an architectural practice in London in 1827, receiving commissions for numerous churches and public buildings before moving to Hamburg in 1842 to continue his career in Germany. Inspired by Alexander von Humboldt's accounts of Siberia, he moved to St. Petersburg. In 1846, abandoning his profession as an architect, Atkinson became an explorer and topographical artist. Between 1848 and 1853 Atkinson travelled extensively in the Russian orient, Mongolia and Manchuria. During his travels he painted over five-hundred watercolours, some five or six feet square, depicting landscapes and peoples. Atkinson's travels were highlighed at an exhibition at Colnaghi's Gallery, London in 1855 and documented in two illustrated books published in 1859 and 1860.
'Leaving the lovely valley, the road crosses the Ouraltou, to the westward, skirting around the rocky summits called Alexander-sopka named after the present emperor, who visited it when in Oural. This forms the water-shed between Europe and Asia; and into the latter the Maiias, along whose banks I had been travelling, runs. Having crossed the ridge, the road descends rapidly into the valley of the river Aii, which finds its way through many a winding gorge in Europe. At a short distance below the summit of the ridge, I had a beautiful view looking down into the valley, where I observed a large lake, and a small part of Zlataoust, its white buildings shining brightly in the sun at the foot of the Urenga.' (T.W.Atkinson, Oriental and western Siberia: a narrative of seven years' explorations and adventures in Siberia, Mongolia, the Kirghis steppes, Chinese Tartary and part of Central Asia, London, 1858, p. 166)