To the East

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Posted 26th 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.

To the East

After touring Europe during the 1830s, Lewis journeyed to the heart of the Ottoman Empire – the largest and longest surviving empire of the Islamic world. Passing overland across Greece and Albania, his route mirrored the path taken just over 30 years earlier by fellow British bohemian, the poet Lord Byron.

In search of new subjects, Lewis arrived in Constantinople (Istanbul) in October 1840. He remained in the region, also visiting Bursa (Western Anatolia), for a whole year. Sir David Wilkie RA, famed for his genre and history paintings, arrived in the Ottoman capital shortly before him. Providing a rare record of an encounter with Lewis, Wilkie praised his 'clever drawings'.

The exhibition

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