This exhibition explores the life and art of the Victorian Orientalist artist John Frederick Lewis (1804-1876).
Lewis travelled to Cairo in 1841 where he remained, detached from the London art scene, for a decade. Of all of the European artists to make the Eastern pilgrimage in the 19th century, Lewis is unique in staying for such a prolonged period. During this time, he created an array of detailed and vivid sketches that convey his fascination with the architecture, light and exoticism of the region. When he returned to London in 1851, he brought with him a substantial body of work that would provide a wealth of inspiration for the rest of his career.
The exhibition is underpinned by an exploration of Lewis's evolving and experimental self-fashioning. While living in Cairo, he was famously described as a 'languid Lotus-eater' leading a 'dreamy, hazy, lazy, tobaccofied life' by his close friend William Makepeace Thackeray. Despite being absent from the London art world for a decade, on his return he was received with critical acclaim assimilating straight into the heart of the establishment. This public role did not necessarily sit easily on his shoulders. Elected President of the Society of Painters in Water Colours in November 1855, he resigned little more than two years later.
Exhibiting an array of Lewis's work from across his career, the exhibition explores the paradoxical tensions that exist between Lewis's varying personas, from young dandy to 'languid Lotus-eater', leader of the establishment to eccentric recluse.