'The Great Oriental'

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Posted 1st 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.

'The Great Oriental'

Lewis married Marian Harper, a governess, in 1847. In the spring of 1851 the couple set sail for England, marking the end of the artist's travels abroad.

Having sent The Hhareem to the Society of Painters in Water Colours the year before he returned (his first work to be exhibited in London in a decade), Lewis was readily welcomed back into the heart of the London establishment.

Arriving with a heaving portfolio of sketches, Lewis's travels would be a source of inspiration throughout the rest of his career. His intricately detailed depictions of 'Oriental life' were interpreted as 'accurately and intimately true'. Captivating Victorian audiences they fuelled Lewis's reputation as one of the foremost Orientalist artists.

The exhibition

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