Posted 3rd August 2019
John Frederick Lewis,
In the Bey's Garden, Asia Minor, 1865
John Frederick Lewis (1840-1876) was a British artist whose life, art and interests were shaped by travel. In the Bey's Garden, Asia Minor, however, draws upon a landscape a little more local to Watts Gallery - Artists' Village.
From his youth, Lewis was an ambitious artist, becoming highly attuned to the competitive London art market. Returning from his travels in 1851, he was appointed as President of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours (SPWC) in 1855. In 1859, he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Arts, becoming a full member in 1865.
Despite his success, Lewis's public role did not sit easily on his shoulders. In 1854, eager to distance himself from London, Lewis and his wife, Marian, relocated to semi-rural Walton-on-Thames in Surrey. Although its title situates the work in Asia Minor, In the Bey's Garden, Asia Minor is believed to have been drawn from the grounds of their Surrey home.
As well as taking inspiration from his garden, Lewis also turned to a familiar model for the painting. Describing her in a letter as 'the guardian Angel of the richest cluster of flowers, ever glowing, and that ever glowed to mortal light', the sculptor Thomas Woolner identified the woman depicted in the oil painting as Lewis's wife, Marian. Regularly modelling for her husband, Marian wears a green velvet jacket with ermine trim, which can also be seen in other paintings by the artist. Although it is now extremely fragile, this jacket still survives in the Harris Museum Collection in Preston.
Despite these familiar references, Lewis continued to live a life in Walton-on-Thames inspired by his previous travels. In 1875, Edward Coleride, Eton College housemaster and clergyman, wrote to the artist of his 'little visit to your Oriental Tent at Walton'.
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