|J.F. Lewis's work appears to have attracted the attention of King George IV as he was invited to draw at Windsor in the mid-1820s. It is possible that the King had noticed Lewis's paintings at exhibition though it is perhaps more likely that they were brought to his attention by the young artist's father, Frederick Christian Lewis, who had been employed to engrave drawings from the Royal Collection. |
Several sketches in the RA album, depicting the trees of Windsor Great Park and hunting with hounds, can be attributed to this period. According to Roget (see reference), Lewis was 'employed for some years by his majesty to paint deer and sporting subjects at Windsor'. No record of any payment from the King has been found but Lewis's painting 'John Clark with animals at the Sandpit Gate' (1825) is in the Royal Collection. According to Oliver Millar, 'artists and craftsmen found themselves swept away in the Prince's 'torrents of expense' to join the army of creditors who were instructed to send in details of work for the Prince for which they had not been payed' (see Millar). A humorous pencil sketch in this album showing a grand dinner party, possibly at Windsor, suggests that Lewis was not entirely impressed by such ostentation (RA 07/3159).
Whether or not he was officially employed by the Royal Household, Lewis painted at least two pictures of Royal Park servants and also painted the King's hounds. His 'Buck-shooting in Windsor Great Park; with portraits of His Majesty's deer-keepers' was exhibited at the RA in 1826 (Tate Britain). Paintings like this one show a definite move away from the types of animals subjects painted by Lewis's friend Edwin Landseer. In the same year Landseer also exhibited a hunting scene - 'The Hunting of Chevy Chase' (1826; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) - but one with a historical subject and a considerably more ambitious composition than Lewis's.
While working on his Windsor paintings Lewis appears to have stayed at Winkfield near Sandpit Gate on the western edge of the royal park. He may have lodged with Mrs Birch, sketches of whom are in the RA album. He painted her portrait in oils in 1824. The Squirrel Inn at Winkfield, where members of the Lewis family may also have stayed, was sketched and painted by J. F. Lewis. However, he did not work exclusively at Windsor during the 1820s and certainly seems to have maintained his family connections in London and in Bedfordshire where he drew game-keepers and others at Ampthill Park, then owned by the Whig politician Henry Fox.
|This album comprises a collection of 210 sketches by J. F. Lewis and other members of his family, originally held together in a leather binding probably dating from the later nineteenth century. On the cover is the title in gilt: SKETCHES / BY / JOHN FREDERICK LEWIS R.A. / BORN JULY 14TH 1804 – DIED AUGUST 15TH 1876. / BEGINNING WITH HIS BOYHOOD. / COLLECTED BY HIS BROTHER / CHAS. G. LEWIS. This much is known, but the rest of the album’s history remains a mystery. The title tells us that this collection of sketches was assembled by John Frederick’s younger brother, Charles George (1808-1880), who, like their father, Frederick Christian (1779-1856), was an engraver. Charles continued to work in the family studio after his father's retirement in 1855, and as his brother was by then a famous artist, he would have wished to keep sketches relating to his boyhood and early career. However, precisely when and by whom the album was collated is not clear. The detailed inscriptions on the album leaves imply first-hand knowledge of the Lewis family and it seems most likely that the album was bound by or for Charles George and passed down in the family.|
The drawings themselves are hugely diverse and are pasted into the album in scrapbook fashion, entirely randomly, in no chronological or thematic order. Few are dated, but the evidence of other similar drawings places them roughly between 1814 and 1830. They cover a wide assortment of subjects: portraits and semi-caricature sketches of Lewis, members of his family and others; sketches relating to his early oil and watercolour paintings; landscape and architectural sketches, particularly at Kempston Hardwick in Bedfordshire and Windsor Great Park; domestic animals, particularly cows, horses and dogs; and wild animals, especially the lions that Lewis saw and drew at the Exeter Exchange Menagerie in London. The drawings are equally varied in style and, despite the inscription on the cover of the album, it has become clear that several are by other members of the Lewis family. Very few are actually signed by the young Lewis, though many are inscribed with a later J. F. Lewis, and with further inscriptions in a formal hand on the album cards.
Artists’ juvenilia are notoriously difficult to judge and here the process of determining authorship is complicated by Lewis’s prodigiously artistic family environment. Not only was his father Frederick Christian Sr one of the most successful engravers of his day as well as a draughtsman, but two of his brothers, Charles George and Frederick Christian Jr, and at least one of his sisters, Mary Exton, were also artists. In addition, there were his two uncles, George Robert, a landscape and portrait painter, and Charles, a bookbinder. His grandfather, Johann Ludwig, variously described as a portrait miniaturist and a bookbinder, was one of many German immigrants who came to Britain in the wake of the Hanoverian monarchy. In such a fertile environment in which father taught son, and brothers and sisters learned by copying one another, distinguishing one hand from another is almost impossible. As the album was made up and bound at least half a century after the drawings were made, it is not surprising that some of the later inscriptions should be incorrect or that misattributions should have occurred.
Similar smaller albums and sketchbooks by J. F. Lewis's father, Frederick Christian Lewis Snr. and other members of the family survive in private collections. There are also further drawings by the Lewis family in the V&A collection.