Following Napoleon's march into Egypt in the late 1790s, a wave of western visitors flooded into the region. They documented what they were seeing in journals, books, and artwork. Those who recorded their travels in paintings and drawings became known as the Orientalists.
They visited Northern Africa and the Middle East, and the movement would include hundreds of known, and unknown, artists. Their fascination with the region lasted over one hundred years, including periods of war and turmoil which frequently put the artists and their families at risk.
There were many nationalities at work in the Orientalist art movement, and it was never a formally organized school or group. Many of the painters sought to capture genre scenes of everyday life in the exotic locations, while others used the landscape for historical subjects. Others focused on the religious power of the region, and still more came to see the sights, and record new varieties of animal and plant life. Many illustrators gathered sketches to use for later publications as well.
Orientalist art would often romanticize the subject, or depict scenes of pure fantasy relying on accurate architectural details or realistic landscapes. It would also create an enormous amount of interest in the region, clothing, interiors and decoration of the entire region.
Some of the most well-known painters of Orientalist art include Jean Leon Jerome, Edwin Weeks, John Frederick Lewis, Ludwig Deutsh, Rudolph Ernst, Charles Gleyre and Etienne Dinet.