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John Frederick Lewis, 1804–1876

On the Banks of the Nile, Upper Egypt [1876, Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhibition catalogue]

Materials & Techniques:
Oil on panel
24 1/2 x 29 1/4 inches (62.2 x 74.3 cm)

Signed and dated in brown paint, lower right: "J.F. Lewis. RA | 1876"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
animals | basket | birds | blue | boat | camels (mammals) | child | dog (animal) | ducks | Egyptian | flowers (plants) | jar | landscape | men | Oriental | poppies | resting | river | riverbank | riverbank | sky | sleeping | swallows | travel | women
Associated Places:
Egypt | Nil, Nahr an-
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

Although Middle Eastern scenes had been part of John Frederick Lewis’s repertoire since his return from Egypt in 1851, recent political events may have been a catalyst for painting and exhibiting this vivid and sensuous evocation of the Nile. In 1875, Isma’il Pasha, the Khedive (ruler) of Egypt, went bankrupt and was forced to sell his shares in the Suez Canal, an eleven-mile waterway linking the Mediterranean and the Red Sea that had opened six years earlier. British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli purchased the shares without consulting Parliament, effectively ensuring British control over Egypt. Given his sympathetic attitude toward Egypt, Lewis likely disapproved of Britain’s aggressive imperial policy. In any case, his meticulous depiction of lush vegetation, birds, animals, and local people suggests a deep affection for Egypt. Painted in the year that Lewis died, and one of his last works, the picture can also be interpreted as a valedictory gesture.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

In 1859 the highly influential critic John Ruskin complained of Lewis's paintings of Egypt: "if we must live in the East, is no landscape ever visible but a dead level of mud raised two feet above a slow stream?" Here Lewis depicts a scene in rural Egypt from just such a vantage point, as if the viewer is seated in a boat looking up at the bank. A man and his dog rest at the edge of the water, while camels loom up, monumentally, against the vibrant blue sky.

Gallery label for Lure of the East - British Orientalist Painting (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-02-07 - 2008-04-28)

Connections (Yale Center for British Art, 2011-05-26 - 2011-09-11) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Imaginative Geographies (Yale Center for British Art, 2006-02-01 - 2006-08-18) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Oil on Water - Oil Sketches by British Watercolorists (Yale Center for British Art, 1986-08-26 - 1986-11-09) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Julie F. Codell, Victorian Artists' autograph replicas : auras, aesthetics, patronage and the art market, Taylor & Francis, Ltd, New York, pp. 286-287, ND467 .V515 2020 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 146-147, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Oil on water, oil sketches by British watercolorists , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1986, pp. 42-43, fig. 39, ND467 C67 (YCBA) [YCBA]

The lure of the east : British Orientalist painting: wall labels, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2008, p. [88], V 2577 (YCBA) V 2577 [YCBA]

The lure of the East, British orientalist painting, 1830-1925 , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2008, p. 16, V 1879 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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