'Spanish Lewis"

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Posted 10th September 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.

'Spanish Lewis'

In the early nineteenth century, Spain had received relatively little attention from British artists. Arriving there in 1832 Lewis studied the Old Masters in Madrid and the Catholic rituals in Seville. The Moorish architecture of Granada's Alhambra fortress-palace would have a transformative impact on his art and interests.

On his return to England in 1833, Lewis exhibited idealised depictions of Spanish life: bullfights, street festivals, village dances and heroic bandits. These scenes captured the imagination of London's audiences who perceived Spain as an intriguing 'Other'. The success of these exhibited watercolours and an accompanying series of lithographs led to the artist being celebrated as 'Spanish Lewis'.

The exhibition

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