John Frederick Lewis, RA, POWS (British, 1804-1876) 'Sheikh el Belled, Kom Ombos'

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Lot 26
John Frederick Lewis, RA, POWS
(British, 1804-1876)
'Sheikh el Belled, Kom Ombos'

Sold for £ 8,750 (US$ 11,000) inc. premium
John Frederick Lewis, RA, POWS (British, 1804-1876)
'Sheikh el Belled, Kom Ombos'
signed, inscribed and dated 'JF. Lewis Kom Obos.1850.' (lower right)
watercolour and gouache over traces of pencil
36.8 x 52.7cm (14 1/2 x 20 3/4in).


  • Provenance
    Christie's, J.F. Lewis studio sale, 4 May 1877, lot 135, as Sheikh El Belled, Kom Ambos, 1850.
    William Vokins (Acquired from the above sale).
    Thomas Agnew & Sons, Manchester.
    Arthur Greenhow Lupton, Leeds (acquired from the above).
    Thence by descent.

    Probably, London, Royal Academy, 1970, no. 580, as A Scheik el Belled, Upper Egypt.

    John Frederick Lewis spent nearly a decade in Egypt, 1841-51, inhabiting a large house in Cairo and adopting the dress and life-style of a wealthy Ottoman. During this time, he made several trips to Sinai, but apparently only one to Upper Egypt, in 1849-50, with his young wife, Marian. At Philae, the furthest extent of their journey, the couple met Florence Nightingale, who commented on Lewis's Turkish dress and courteous manners and whose visit to a village family with Marian Lewis made a deep impression on her. From there the Lewises returned north and were at Kom Ombo, about 100 miles upstream from Luxor, by February 1850.
    While there, Lewis made several remarkable sketches of the famous Ptolomaic temple as well as of the inhabitants of the village. This, as Lewis's inscription affirms, is one of them. A printed inscription on the mount (presumably derived from a label, now lost) identifies the subject of the watercolour as the 'Sheikh el Belled' - in modern transliteration, shaykh al-balad, or headman of a village. The shaykh is seated beside his magnificent white horse, both apparently reposing after a long journey. He wears a large white turban and smokes a short meerschaum-type pipe, lost in his own thoughts. The horse, his chin-strap loosened and eyes half-closed, rests a back leg. Both man and animal exude a calm resignation to whatever fate might bring them. That Lewis was able to capture so acutely and with such sensitivity the essential characteristics of both man and horse, stems from his early training with his engraver father, F.C. Lewis, Snr, as well as from his proficiency as a young artist with animals and sporting subjects. Over twenty years later, his skill has matured and he has developed an even greater understanding of and empathy with his subjects. Lewis's choice of an apparently mundane subject at a site famous for its ruined double temple, dedicated to the gods Sobek and Haroeris, is also evidence of the immersion in contemporary Egyptian culture and society that characterised his sojourn in that country. Time and again, his sketches from his Nile trip reveal that his interest lay in the rural life of Upper Egypt rather than with the ancient monuments that most tourists travelled there to see.
    This is one of two watercolours with similar titles that were in the sale from Lewis's studio held in May 1877. Since there is a stamp on the old backboard for J & W Vokins, well-known framers and gilders, and by then also dealers, particularly in watercolours, it is probable that this is lot 135 rather than the version that was lot 132 in that sale. If Vokins sold the work to Agnews, from whom it was acquired by Arthur Greenhow Lupton (?1848-1930), then the watercolour may not have been in the public domain since the late 1870s. Lupton had entered the family textile business at the age of sixteen, became a member of Leeds Council, and was a key figure in the development of Leeds University, which received its royal charter in 1904. He founded the Yorkshire Electric Power Company and Electrical Distribution of Yorkshire Ltd., all these activities typical of his Victorian upbringing, where industry and philanthropy were often combined.
    The other watercolour of this subject seems to have been unsold in the 1877 sale and this remained with Lewis's widow until a further sale, 3 May 1897. One of the two watercolours had been exhibited by Lewis, at the Royal Academy in 1870, along with seven others from his Eastern sojourn, an indication that the artist himself held it in high regard.

    We are grateful to Briony Llewellyn and Charles Newton for their assistance in cataloguing this lot.
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