This watercolour depicts John, Viscount Ponsonby, when he was British Ambassador to Constantinople. It was painted in Constantinople in 1840 or 1841, while artist John Frederick Lewis was travelling in the Middle East.
Early in 1840, Lewis set off from Rome to Constantinople, travelling via Albania and Greece. He spent the best part of a year there, before sailing for Egypt late in 1841. This watercolour provides evidence that, while in Constantinople, Lewis met British Ambassador, John Ponsonby. The artist also made a sketch of ‘Lord Ponsonby’s Horses held by Grooms at Stamboul [sic]’ (sold through Sotheby’s, London, in 1998), which may have been a study for his oil painting ‘Arab Horses and their Seises [sic], Constantinople’, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1870 (now untraced). Artist David Wilkie was also in Constantinople from October 1840 to January 1841 and wrote to fellow artist William Collins: ‘We have encountered John Lewis, from Greece and Smyrna. He is making numbers of drawings. I said he would turn up… He has been making most clever drawings, as usual’.
After his sojourn in Constantinople, Lewis sailed for Cairo in November 1841.
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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