Lewis was one of the best known Victorian Orientalist artists who were fascinated by Far Eastern culture. Having travelled to Cairo in 1841, Lewis married and spent the next ten years of his life living in the city. The Harem, depicts concubines and their attendants, and incorporates every element one would expect to see in a latter piece by Lewis - notably the complex fall of light through latticed windows on patterned backgrounds, (note the shadow passing over the dogs foreleg), and the recession of depths through archways that are also regular feature in Lewis’s bazaar street scenes. Although John Ruskin hailed Lewis as a leading Pre-Raphaelite, he was never officially associated with the Brotherhood.
On returning to England, Lewis brought with him a huge collection of items and samples of Eastern dress of which to work from in his studio. His interest in the customs and costumes of the East demonstrates his determination to portray them with exactness.