In this scene from Lord Byron's poem The Corsair , the beautiful Gulnare, a member of the Pasha's harem, visits the imprisoned corsair or pirate Conrad. They fall in love, and Gulnare eventually offers to kill the Pasha and free her beloved.
Eugène Delacroix drew and painted many subjects from Byron, in whose poems the artist found the emotional, exotic subject matter he sought. In orientalizing scenes like this one, he captured the struggles of the heart, matching his innovative use of color and loosely applied brushwork with unprecedented and controversial themes.
Delacroix exhibited this watercolor in the Salon of 1831. Having learned the watercolor technique from his British friends, he used it both for independent works of art and as a medium for sketching nature. He aptly described his approach, saying, "The special charm of watercolor, beside which any painting in oil always appears rusty and yellowed, is due to the inherent transparency of the paper."