Although many nineteenth-century American landscape painters traveled abroad in search of subjects, Sanford Gifford was one of the very few who ventured beyond England and the Continent. Early in 1869 he traveled the Nile from Cairo to the first cataract (actually rapids) and back. On March 4 he reached the village of Siout, which lay in the midst of an extensive and fertile plain below the Libyan Hills at the start of a great caravan route running through the Libyan Desert to the Sudan. The town was known for its picturesqueness and its history, having been the capital of the thirteenth nome (province) of Upper Egypt during antiquity and the birthplace of Plotinus, the great Neoplatonic philosopher. Gifford described the view that inspired this painting in his journal:
Looking westward, the town with its domes and minarets lay between us and the sun, bathed in a rich and beautiful atmosphere. Behind, on the right, were the yellow cliffs of the Libyan mts., running back into the tender grades of distance. Between us and the town were fields of grain, golden green with the transparent light. On the right was a tent with sheep and beautiful horses, the sunlight sparkling on a splendid white stallion. On the left the road ran in, with a fountain and figures of men and women and camels. The whole glowing and gleaming under the low sun. 
Siout, Egypt, is the most important and the finest of Gifford's dozen or so known Egyptian works and ably demonstrates his mastery of both atmospheric and linear perspective. The glowing light serves both to give tonal unity and balance to the overall composition and to reveal the myriad details of the scene with exceptional clarity. The result is a work that is less about the physical facts of the scene it depicts and more about the very act of perceiving. As one of the artist's contemporaries wrote:
Gifford's art was poetic and reminiscent. . . It was nature passed through the alembic [a device that refines or transmutes through distillation] of a finely organized sensibility. 
(Text by Franklin Kelly, published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)
1. Journal III (Egypt), March 4, 1867; quoted in Sanford Robinson Gifford [exh. cat., University of Texas Art Museum] (Austin, 1970), 29.
2. "Sanford R. Gifford. His Life and Character as Artist and Man," in A Memorial Catalogue of the Paintings of Sanford Robinson Gifford, N.A. [exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art] (New York, 1881), 8.
lower right: S. R. Gifford 1874; reverse: Siout S R Gifford
Marks and Labels
Possibly Timothy B. Blackstone [1829-1900], Chicago, by 1876. J.I. Nesmith, Brooklyn, by 1880; (Vose Galleries, Boston); Webster and Douglas B. Collins, Longmeadow, Massachusetts, by 1970; (Vose Galleries, Boston); sold 28 January 1977 to Jerald Dillon Fessenden, New York; purchased jointly 1986 by (James Maroney, New York) and (Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York); purchased 1 February 1999 by NGA.
- Possibly The Art Gallery of the Inter-State Industrial Exposition of Chicago, 1876, no. 201, as Siout, the Capital of Upper Egypt.
- Spring Exhibition (Thirty-Eighth Reception), Brooklyn Art Association, 1879, no. 342, as Siout, Upper Egypt.
- The Memorial Collection of the Works of the Late Sanford Robinson Gifford, N.A., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1880-1881, no. 114, as Siût, Egypt.
- Sanford Robinson Gifford, University of Texas Art Museum, Austin; The Albany Institute of History and Art; Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1970-1971, no. 52, repro.
- American Light: The Luminist Movement 1850-1875, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980, fig. 126, as The Desert at Siout, Egypt.
- The Orientalists: Delacroix to Matisse, The Allure of North Africa and the Near East, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1984, no. 43, color repro. as The Desert at Siout.
- Adventure & Inspiration: American Artists in Other Lands, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., 1988, no. 50, as The Desert at Siout.
- Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Stanford R. Gifford, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2003-2004, no. 49, repro.
- Gifford, Sanford Robinson. Journal III (Egypt). 4 March 1869: 87.
- "Pictures/Notes on the Works in the Academy Exhibition." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (26 April 1879): 1, col. 6.
- Weir, John F. A Memorial Catalogue of the Paintings of Sanford Robinson Gifford, N.A., New York, 1881: no. 620.
- Weiss, Ila. "Sanford Robinson Gifford, 1823-1880." Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, New York, 1968: xx, xxxvi n. 66, 293, 449 nn. 9 and 66.
- Weiss, Ila. Poetic Landscape: The Art and Experience of Sanford R. Gifford. Newark, 1987: 122, 138, 297, 298, repro.
- Avery, Kevin J. "The Panorama and Its Manifestation in American Landscape Painting, 1795-1870." Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, New York, 1995: 368-369, fig. 184.
- Applegate, Heidi Stoltzfus. Sanford Robinson Gifford in the Orient. M.A. thesis, University of Maryland, College Park, 2001: 18-30, 91, fig. 7.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 325, no. 262, color repro.
- Vigué, Jordi. Great Masters of American Art. New York, 2004: 197, repro.