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Lewis (i): (1) John Frederick Lewis

(1) John Frederick Lewis

(b London, ?14 ?July 1805; d Walton-on-Thames, 15 Aug 1876).

He developed his precocious talents as draughtsman and etcher within the family circle. In 1820 he
entered Thomas Lawrences studio as a draughtsman of animals, which, in close association with his
childhood neighbour Edwin Landseer, he had studied from live specimens and dissected
cadavers. Lewis made six intaglio prints after his drawings of the larger felines (published 1825), while
domesticated beasts figured more prominently in the twelve etchings of Domestic Subjectspublished in 1826.
His work as a sporting and wildlife painter culminated in Buck-shooting in Windsor Great Park (1825; London,
Tate) and his one contemporary, royal commission, John Clark with the Animals at Sandpit Gate, Windsor
Great Park (Windsor Castle, Berks, Royal Col.)

By 1827 Lewis had turned to watercolours, concentrating on landscape and topographical views and
picturesque genre subjects. He rapidly developed an accomplished technique of increasing intricacy, with
extensive use of gouache. Initially working under the stylistic influences of Richard Parkes Bonington and
David Wilkie, he began to travel in search of motifs, starting with an extensive sketching tour on the Continent
in 1827. In 1829 he became a full member of the Old Water-Colour Society and visited Devon and Scotland.
These trips inspired watercolours of increasingly ambitious composition and meticulous finish (e.g. Highland
Hospitality, 1829; New Haven, CT, Yale Cent. Brit. A.). More important was his tour of Spain and Morocco
between 1832 and 1834. After his return to England he elaborated his sketches and drawings into a sequence
of richly flamboyant watercolours, which earned him the sobriquet Spanish Lewis. A typical example
is Spanish Fiesta (1836; U. Manchester, Whitworth A.G.), with its brilliant colour and acutely observed local
types and incidents. Drawings made in situ were reproduced as lithographs either by himself or by others
for Sketches and Drawings of the Alhambra, made during a Residence in Granada in the Years 18334 (1835)
and Lewiss Sketches of Spain and Spanish Character (1836).

In 1837 Lewis left England for a prolonged tour of Europe and the Near East. After travelling through Italy and
Greece he reached Constantinople (now Istanbul) by October 1840 and made numerous evocative studies of
the city and its environs before sailing for Egypt in November 1841. He rented a large Mamluk mansion in the
Azbakiyyah quarter of Cairo, and Thackeray, the most notable of his English visitors, published an amusing
account of Lewiss lifestyle in Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo (London, 1846). Lewis married
Marian Harper in Alexandria on 8 May 1847. In 1849 he completed The Hhareem (Japan, priv. col.; partial
replica, London, V&A), an intricately wrought fantasy based on Cairene models, dress and setting that
received widespread critical acclaim at the Old Water-Colour Society in 1850 and established the pattern for all
future production.

In 1851 Lewis and his wife returned to London, and they settled in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in 1854.
Although he had been elected President of the Old Water-Colour Society by 1855, Lewisreturned to oil painting
for financial reasons, with minimal modification of handling and none of style. He continued to produce highly
polished portrayals of Eastern markets, bazaars and mosques, imaginary desert encounters and fictive harem
incidents, derived from life studies and a limited repertory of images: Intercepted Correspondence,
Cairo (1869; priv. col.) is a free variation of The Hhareem. For all their insistent polychromy, obsessive detail
and anecdotal embellishments, his Orientalist paintings (e.g. Frank Encampment in the Desert of Mt Sinai,
1842, the Convent of St Catherine in the Distance, 1856; New Haven, CT, Yale Cent. Brit. A.; for
illustration seeORIENTALISM) remain the most sumptuously explicit and comprehensively documented of those
of the Victorian Orientalists.


Domestic Subjects (London, 1826)


Sketches and Drawings of the Alhambra, made during a Residence in Granada in the Years 1833
34(London, 1835)

Lewiss Sketches of Spain and Spanish Character (London, 1836)


British Artists: Their Style and Character, xxxii: John Frederick Lewis, A.J. [London], iv (1858), pp. 413

R. Davies and B. S. Long: John Frederick Lewis, RA (180576), Old Wtrcol. Soc. Club, iii (19256), pp. 3150

H. Stokes: John Frederick Lewis, RA (18051876), Walkers Q., xxviii (1929) [whole issue]

John Frederick Lewis, RA, 18051876 (exh. cat., Newcastle upon Tyne, Laing A.G., 1971)

M. Lewis: John Frederick Lewis, RA, 18051876 (Leigh-on-Sea, 1978)

H. H. Preston: J. F. Lewis, 18051876 (in preparation)

Harley Preston