Pierre Desire Guillemet was born in Lyon, France where he received his art education at the Academy of Fine Arts. He was invited to the Ottoman palace in 1865 to paint a portrait of Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861-1876), and worked as court painter for thirteen years until his death in 1878. In 1874, he was allowed to establish a private art school in Istanbul, which was the first to offer a western-style art education in the Ottoman Empire. Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910) later established the state Academy of Fine Arts (Sanayi-i Nefise Mekteb-i Âlisi) in 1883.
Many foreign painters came to the Ottoman Empire, especially Constantinople, in the nineteenth century. Some of these artists were invited by the court or introduced to the court by others. They depicted portraits of the sultans and the royal family, war scenes and major historical events for the court while also producing work for other clients. Some of these foreign artists came on their own initiative, opened workshops and painted works on the theme of Constantinople, its scenery and inhabitants, for a varied clientele. Famous European artists who were curious about the East also came to Constantinople for brief periods of time.