Drawing on Melville's experiences of Spain and Moorish architecture, this work also shows the influence of the Italian Orientalist Alberto Pasini (1826-99), who often painted mounted troops guarding the gates of eastern cities, although the tawny palette and near-abstract handling are distinctly Melville's own.
Melville discovered the little Atlantic port of Passages, near San Sebastian, at the end of his journey through northern Spain. Of the many views of Passages Melville painted, this is surely the most striking, both for its spectacular composition and extraordinary concentration of colour. Such is the intensity of Melville's palette that it seems almost to anticipate the colour contrasts of the Fauves.
Painted from memory upon Melville's return home from the Middle East, this procession emerges from the shadows, with the scarlet banner and green tunic of the leader piercing the gloom. Here the artist composes by omission; the foreground is largely empty, but the eddying shadows cast by an 'off-stage' tree superbly animate the scene.
In April 1882 Melville visited Baghdad's North Gate, where the block-like forms of the architecture clearly caught his eye, providing a strikingly geometric backdrop to this colourful market scene. Figures are deployed like chess pieces, each standing within their own pool of shadow in the midday sun.