John Frederick Lewis (July 14, 1804 - August 15, 1876) was an Orientalist English painter. He specialized in Oriental and Mediterranean scenes and often worked in exquisitely detailed watercolour. He was the son of Frederick Christian Lewis (1779-1856), engraver and landscape-painter.
John Frederick Lewis was born in London in 1805, the son of a master engraver, Frederick Christian Lewis. In the early years of his career, Lewis was primarily a painter of animals, as was his friend Edwin Landseer. The two spent much of their time studying and drawing the animals in the Exeter Change Royal Menagerie, Lewis' drawings such as Lion and Lioness circa 1820 originated there. The time between 1827 and 1832 has been called a "transitional period" by Lewis' biographer and ancestor, Michael Lewis.In 1827 Lewis moved from his family's house to set up his own studio. Lewis also began to work almost completely in watercolor, becoming an Associate of the Old Water-Colour Society (O.W.C.S.) in March of 1827, and a full member in June of 1829. His subject matter switched from animals and sporting subjects to landscapes, interiors, and figure studies. While the number of paintings Lewis exhibited at the Royal Academy lessened significantly, fifty-four were shown at the Old Water-Colour Society during those six years.
This was also the period in which Lewis began to travel. In 1829, Lewis accompanied his father to Devonshire and later traveled extensively in Scotland, perhaps drawn there by the landscape and genre paintings of the artists David Wilkie and David Roberts. In 1832 Lewis entered another significant period of his life and work when he left Britain to travel around Spain.
In Madrid Lewis honed his skills by copying the great paintings of the Prado. These watercolor paintings were acquired by the Royal Scottish Academy in 1853. From Madrid, Lewis passed through Toledo to Granada and the Alhambra. There Lewis made many sketches of Moorish architecture, as in Courtyard of the Alhambra, circa 1834. The last major stop on Lewis' tour was Seville, a city that Lewis loved, especially during the Holy Week processions and celebrations. Before returning to England, Lewis made a short trip to Morocco where he got a first glimpse at Islamic life. In 1834 Lewis returned to London for two years during which time Sketches and Drawings of the Alhambra (1835) was published, to be followed in 1836 by Lewis' Sketches of Spain and Spanish Character.
One can imagine that Lewis had been bitten by the proverbial travel bug as he left England again in 1837, not to return for fourteen years. The winter of 1837 was spent in Paris before Lewis moved on to Florence, Naples, and finally Rome. After two years living in Rome, Lewis sent Easter Day at Rome to the O.W.C.S. in 1841. Lewis then left for Egypt, presumably to further explore Islamic culture, which he had first encountered during his short trip to Morocco. That painting would be the last by Lewis that the O.W.C.S would receive for exhibition until 1850.
He lived in Cairo between 1841 and 1850, where he made numerous sketches that he turned into paintings even after his return to England in 1851. He lived in Walton-on-Thames until his death.
There were probably a number of reasons for this. Firstly the permanence of oils. Secondly the greater scope it gave him. Thirdly the far greater recognition, and hence financial rewards. Lewis became an Associate of the Royal Academy, and a full member in 1865.
John Frederick Lewis was amongst the very greatest artists of his day, and his pictures are beautifully painted, subtle, fastidious. Nowadays they bring very high prices.
Lewis became an Associate of the Royal Academy (ARA) in 1859 and a member (an RA) in 1865.
After being largely forgotten for decades, he became extremely fashionable, and expensive, from the 1970s and good works now fetch prices into the millions of dollars or pounds at auction.