Event Date; 10 November 2011
Royal Asiatic Society
Stephenson Way London NW1 2HD
Painted Embroideries: interwoven threads in the Orientalist images of John Frederick Lewis
John Frederick Lewis’s vivid and colourful scenes of oriental life were celebrated in his lifetime for the virtuosity of their execution and the perceived authenticity of their portrayal of Islamic society. Modern criticism, in the light of Saidian and post-Saidian discourse, has been less willing to accept his images at face value and his Orientalist subject matter has provoked extensive discussion. At the same time, more carefully considered critical analysis has recognised the multi-faceted complexities of his compositions and he has been acknowledged as one of the most
intriguing of all Orientalist artists. In fashioning his images, Lewis referenced a wealth of sources, both visual and textual. They drew on a decade of experience first in Istanbul and then Cairo, where he had lived a part Eastern, part Western existence, but they were painted in an English studio for a British audience imbued with the expectations and preconceptions of their time. This paper aims to unravel the cross-cultural threads that Lewis has skilfully woven together to create his images, with particular reference to one of his most successful watercolours, The Arab Scribe, of 1852, painted shortly after his return to England. An amalgam of many different elements, both Oriental and Occidental, it can be seen as a paradigm of the cultural interchange that characterises his work.
Introduction by Gordon Johnson .