John Frederick Lewis England
7-14-1804 London, ENG – 8-15-1876 London, ENGBack to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
John Frederick Lewis very careful and loving representation of Islamic architecture, furnishings, screens, and costumes set new standards of realism, which influenced other artists, including the leading French Orientalist painter Jean-Léon Gérôme in his later works. Unlike many other Orientalist painters who took a salacious interest in the women of the Middle East, he never painted a nude, and his wife modeled for several of his harem scenes.
John Frederick Lewis and Landseer trained together in the workshop of Sir Thomas Lawrence. Initially Lewis, like Landseer, was an animal painter, and he often included animals throughout his later works, in particular a pet gazelle he had in Cairo. He published prints of the big cats in 1826 and twelve domesticated animals in 1826, and painted two large scenes with animals in Windsor Great Park, now Royal Collection.
Lewis toured Europe in 1827, the year he began to paint in watercolor, then traveled in Spain and Morocco between 1832 and 1834.
John Frederick Lewis was an early traveler on what was to become a well-trodden route for English artists, though some ten years behind David Wilkie in Spain. David Roberts, who became the other leading British Orientalist, mainly through his lithographs, was in Spain and the Middle East at the same time as Lewis, though the two rarely met, and William James Müller had been in Cairo in 1838.
In 1837 he left for travels that took him to Constantinople in 1840, after Italy and Greece. He continued to Egypt and lived in Cairo in rather grand style between 1841 and 1851, in a traditional upper-class house that he often used as a setting for his paintings.
In Egypt he made large numbers of precise drawings that he turned into paintings after his return to England in 1851. In 1850 his watercolor The Harem (now in a private collection in Japan, and rather faded) was a huge hit when exhibited in London.
He continued to paint watercolors for most of the 1850s, before returning to painting with similar subjects and style in oils, which were quicker to produce and sold for better prices.
In the 1860s his usual practice was to paint two versions of the same composition, in oils (to exhibit at the Royal Academy) and also watercolor, trying to push the price of the latter up to approach that of the former.
John Frederick Lewis continued to paint and exhibit almost up to the end of his life. After being largely forgotten for decades, he became extremely fashionable, and expensive, from the 1970s and good works now fetch prices into the millions of dollars at auction.
Art Movement: Orientalism
Influences: Thomas Lawrence
Traveled: Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Italy, Greece
Influenced: Jean-Léon Gérôme