J.F. Lewis Orientalist masterpiece in London auction

John Frederick Lewis, ‘The Bezestein Bazaar of El Khan Khalil,’ 1872, 46 x
35.2in. Estimate: £3,000,000-5,000,000

LONDON – Christie’s London dedicated auction of Orientalist Art on June 18 will be led by John Frederick Lewis’ (1805-1876) masterpiece The Bezestein Bazaar of El Khan Khalil, Cairo (estimate £3 million–£5 million). One of the last few important works by the artist remaining in private hands, it depicts Cairo’s most desired bazaar. The painting will be unveiled during Christie’s Islamic Art Week at the end of March and sold along with approximately 40 Orientalist works during Luxury Week in June in London.

The Bezestein Bazaar of El Khan Khalil, Cairo is one of the largest paintings by John Frederick Lewis to come to auction as well as one of the last of this caliber remaining in private hands. Christie’s is the undisputed market leader for paintings by Lewis, holding the world record price for the artist at auction, as well as six of the top ten prices for the artist at auction,” said Arne Everwijn, Christie’s senior specialist in European Art.

Orientalism is the vision of the East by artists of the West. European painters of the 19th century — from England, France and Germany especially — visited the areas we now know as the Near East, Middle East and North Africa, and depicted what they saw in wide-eyed admiration. Their paintings and works on paper tapped into a growing fascination with travel and far-off, exotic lands, which had previously been beyond the comprehension of the average Londoner or Parisian.

John Frederick Lewis (London, July 14, 1804-Aug. 15, 1876) was an English Orientalist painter. Yet unlike his other artistic contemporaries who made the traditional Orientalist pilgrimage, Lewis spent a decade in Egypt. The years spanning 1840-51 found the artist firmly entrenched in Arab life. Dressed in native garb and at ease with the language, he easily disappeared into the crowd to observe and sketch for hours, later building up his oil compositions in his studio. His careful and loving representation of Islamic architecture, furnishings, screens and costumes set new standards of realism, which influenced other artists.

The Bezestein Bazaar of El Khan Khalil, Cairo was painted in 1872 in Lewis’ studio in Walton-on-Thames, close to Hampton Court Palace in Surrey. This celebrated composition – a stunning visual spectacle of a traditional Egyptian souk or marketplace –  stands as a sort of artistic memoir of a life-long passion for Egypt, based on numerous sketches of people and places he encountered.