Monday, February 8, 2010

Picture of the Week No.10 - J. F. Lewis

Another walk in to the gallery is accompanied by freezing swirls of snow and as I sit down at my desk the catalogue for Tate's 'Lure of the East' catches my eye and takes me somewhere far warmer. As I flicked through, waiting for my computer to boot up, I read a few lines about a self portrait of JF Lewis. He has depicted himself as a carpet seller in a bazaar, perhaps in Cairo with an expression that challenges the viewer to make a decision on who this white-bearded man in baggy blue trousers and pointed slippers really is. Included in the exhibition was an intricate watercolour by Lewis from the Cecil Higgins Collection, full of life and rich detail, depicting a bazaar in Cairo - maybe not far from where Lewis depicted himself. KP

'The Bezestein Bazaar, El Khan Khalil, Cairo', 1872

watercolour and bodycolour on paper, 57.3 x 43 cm
inscribed: JF Lewis RA 1872

Accession No.: P.282

A version in oil was sold at Sotheby’s, London in 1980 (9 April 1980, lot.28). The scene depicts the Bezestein Bazaar of El Khan Khalil, one of the most important markets in Cairo, which dates back to the 14th century.

Lewis left England in 1837 eventually settling in Cairo in 1841. According to his friend, Lord Elphinstone he lived in the ‘most Ottoman quarter’, where he remained for ten years. While in Cairo, Lewis adopted local customs and style of dress. The writer Thackery referred to his existence thus: ‘like a languid Lotus-eater – a dreamy, hazy, lazy, tobaccofied Life’. Despite references to the Egyptian tradition of pipe-smoking and a ‘languid’ life, Lewis produced numerous sketches of Cairo life, and, concerned about authenticity, amassed an extraordinary collection of Egyptian costumes and accessories. This material enabled Lewis to continue with Egyptian subjects even on his return to England in 1851, where this picture was painted.

Son of the painter and engraver Frederick Christian Lewis (1779-1856), John Frederick was initially encouraged to take up engraving. However, his early friendship with fellow animal-lover LANDSEER prompted Lewis to become an animal-painter. He was employed, briefly, to Sir Thomas Lawrence, but soon abandoned animal-painting in favour of travelling. On his return to Britain, Lewis settled in Walton-on-Thames, where he continued to paint Egyptian scenes until his death.

PROVENANCE: J. Dyson Perrins; Sotheby’s 22 April 1959, lot 58, from whom purchased by Gallery.
EXHIBITIONS: Universal Exposition, Paris, 1878, no.91 as Street Scene in Cairo; English Watercolours from The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, Reading, Reading Museum and Art Gallery. 1965, no.32; The English Tradition: an exhibition of watercolours from two private collections, Bedford, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, 1972, no.53.
REFERENCES: M. Lewis, John Frederick Lewis, 1978, p.97, no.608; M. Lewis, The Lewis Family: Art & Travel, 1992, p.37.

No comments:

Post a Comment