In this drawing the women’s facial features are almost identical, suggesting that artist John Frederick Lewis may have sketched the same model in different poses for the work.
Although the work has been titled ‘Greek Women’ since it was presented for the Government collection in 1952, it in fact it relates to Lewis’s orientalist works. The serving boy is similarly dressed to figures in Lewis’s ‘An Orientialist Interior’ (1863; Victoria and Albert Museum) and ‘The Pipe Bearer’ (1863; Birmingham Museums Trust). While the two female figures are seen in identical poses but with a mashrabiya (window with carved latticework) behind them in a Lewis sketch titled ‘Two Women in an Interior, Cairo’, which sold through Christie’s, London, in 2012.
The Christie’s sketch shows the seated woman to the left with considerably darker skin than her companion and the catalogue entry states: ‘It is hard to judge whether this intriguing sketch was made while the artist was living in Cairo, 1841-50, or whether it is a compositional study made in his Walton-on-Thames studio, but… it seems clear that the two unveiled women, the one an English rose in appearance, the other a more reticent Egyptian, are models posing at the artist’s request.’
Painter of animals, landscape, genre, Spanish and oriental subjects John Frederick Lewis was the son of artist Frederick Christian Lewis. He studied under Edwin Landseer, exhibiting at the British Institution from 1820 and Royal Academy in 1821. He turned to watercolours in c.1825 and was elected a member of the Royal Watercolour Society (1829). He made visits to Switzerland (1827), Italy and Spain (1832/34) and Paris (1837), before continuing to Rome, Constantinople, Greece and the Middle East, arriving in Cairo in 1841 and remaining for about ten years. Lewis’s watercolour ‘The Hhareem’ (c.1850) helped establish him as England’s chief orientalist artist. He was elected President of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1855 and RA in 1865.
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