November 17, 2017, by Matt Davies

Inspiring Slides: John Frederick Lewis, ‘Indoor Gossip, Cairo’ by Fatima Kasujee.

The first Inspiring Slides post of the 2017-18 academic year is by second-year History student Fatima Kasujee. Fatima is one of this year’s intake to the DHC’s student volunteer scheme and it was whilst working with the slide collection that her eye was caught by the work of John Frederick Lewis.

Lewis, John Frederick, Indoor Gossip, Cairo, 1873, Image courtesy of the Whitworth, ©University of Manchester.

Lewis, John Frederick, Indoor Gossip, Cairo, 1873, Image courtesy of the Whitworth, ©University of Manchester.

John Frederick Lewis was a British painter specialising in Orientalist scenes. He spent a number of years living and travelling in North Africa and the Middle East which served as inspiration for many of his paintings. His work is known for being very realistic and detailed, as evident in the piece ‘Indoor Gossip, Cairo’.

With an estimated creation date of 1873, ‘Indoor Gossip, Cairo’ is one of the later paintings of John Frederick Lewis. It can be found at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. The painting evokes comparison to some of his other works, such as ‘Life in the Harem’ and ‘An Oriental Interior’. Yet both of these pieces have an earlier date of creation, which is perhaps evident by the more developed and sophisticated techniques used in ‘Indoor Gossip, Cairo’. A common setting in Lewis’ paintings is the harem and critics have noted that what distinguishes his work from that of other Orientalist painters is that his harem scenes never show nude women, this work being no exception.

John Frederick Lewis’ work caught my eye while I was sorting through the slide collection in the DHC. I was drawn in by his depictions of places like Grenada and Cairo and how he captured the busy atmosphere so well, ‘Indoor Gossip, Cairo’ is a great example of this. Lewis depicts two women in conversation, they are dressed in vibrant oranges and greens with elaborate headdresses. The women appear relaxed and comfortable as they add the final adornments to their outfits.

What I was most impressed by when studying this painting was the fine detail captured, not only in the women’s clothing but also the area around them. In the background is a shadow cast by light streaming in through the grilled window, as well as a reflection in the mirror. The pattern appears incredibly accurate and the angle and positioning is what makes the setting of the painting so realistic. This detail may not be the main feature of the painting but stands out for me as the most impressive.

Unfortunately there is very little information such as critics’ reviews and analyses on John Frederick Lewis’ works available online, particularly ‘Indoor Gossip, Cairo’, so it is extremely valuable to have the images in the slides collection for students to view and critique for themselves.

You do not have to be a volunteer in DHC to enter the Inspiring Slides competition, get your work posted here on Digital Dialogues and maybe even win a prize. Just choose a slide from the collection–any slide will do –and write a response to it. It may be a memory prompted by the slide or an immediate response in the form of a story, poem or even art work, or perhaps an examination or interpretation of the image. Prose need not be long, three or four paragraphs, 500 words is about average.

If you cannot think of a particular image but fancy having a go, there is a selection of slides chosen exclusively by the DHC team on Lightbox one in the DHC. Choose an image, scan (yes we do have a slide scanner in DHC!) or take it away and let your imagination run wild!

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Posted in Inspiring Slides