Facing Fame

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Posted 8th October 2019

John Frederick Lewis

This blog is about our latest exhibition dedicated to the life and art of the Victorian Orientalist artist John Frederick Lewis.

Lewis was a well-travelled artist, visiting Europe and then settling in Cairo where he created numerous detailed and vivid sketches that conveyed his fascination for the region. This body of work would provide a wealth of inspiration for the rest of his career and caused him to be received with critical acclaim on his return to Britain, despite a decade of absence. Exhibiting an array of Lewis's work from across his career, this exhibition will explore the paradoxical tensions that exist between Lewis's varying personas, from young dandy to 'languid Lotus-eater', leader of the establishment to eccentric recluse.

Facing Fame

Lewis was an ambitious artist, attuned to the competitive London art market. Having been appointed as President of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours in 1855, he resigned less than three years later to pursue the higher status of painting in oil. Elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1859, he became a full member in 1865.

Lewis thrived in establishment London but this public role did not always sit easily on his shoulders. Distancing himself from the metropolitan centre, Lewis preferred to work from his studio at The Holme, his semi-rural residence in Walton-on-Thames.

The art critic, John Ruskin, used Lewis's past travels to rationalise his apparent detachment from the London art scene:

“There was something un-English about him, which separated him from the good-humoured groups of established fame whose members abetted or jested with each other… He never dined with us, as our other painter friends did.”

The exhibition

This is one of a series of blog posts about our exhibition John Frederick Lewis: Facing Fame