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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D , Case SC, Shelf 23

The Egyptian Magician holding a seance with members of the European community in Cairo

Drawing
ca. 1846 (drawn)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Although this is the roughest of drawings, a composition sketch, or simply on the spot note-taking, it is important because it actually shows an Egyptian Magician, Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Maghrabi, in action, possibly in Lewis’s house. A séance was held there on the 8th December 1841, according to Sir Gardner Wilkinson who was present. The Shayk is clearly visible in the centre, and the huddled form in front of him indicates the young lad kneeling and staring at the drop of ink in his palm, answering difficult questions put to him by the onlookers. Although they are in Eastern dress, they are identified on an old label as prominent members of the European community in Cairo, including Henry Abbott, Joseph Bonomi and Colonel Barnett, British Consul-General in Egypt. For more information on these séances, see the portrait of the Shayk by Geoffey Vigne, SD.1148.
Alas, if Lewis took his Magician picture idea to another stage, it has not yet been rediscovered. The drawing also demonstrates how Lewis often began his pictures with the roughest of ideas dashed down on the spot, and then slowly worked them up into the paintings of exquisite finish that made him famous. Although a number of these very rough sketches survive, the majority seem to have been lost or destroyed.


Object details

Categories
Object type
TitleThe Egyptian Magician holding a seance with members of the European community in Cairo (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Pencil and red chalk, on thin paper laid down on modern laid paper
Brief description
Drawing, The Egyptian Magician holding a seance with members of the European community in Cairo, about 1846, by John Frederick Lewis
Physical description
Drawing
Dimensions
  • Height: 27.2cm
  • Width: 36.5cm
Styles
Marks and inscriptions
Inscribed and dated on old labels formerly attached to the back Egyptian Magician Portraits of Messrs. Abbott, Kremer, Bonomi and Col. Barnett Cairo 1846 and FN[?] Smith, Lot 62. J.F. Lewis R.A. sale May 4. 1877
Gallery label
John Frederick Lewis 1804/5-1876 The Egyptian Magician holding a Seance with Members of the European Community in Cairo About 1846 Many visitors to Cairo consulted Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Maghribi. This rapid composition sketch shows him answering questions in Lewis's house, with a young boy as assistant. The boy would stare at a drop of ink in his palm and 'see' images of the living and the dead. Pencil and red chalk Purchased 1985 Museum no. SD.586
Credit line
Purchased with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, Shell International and the Friends of the V&A
Object history
Probably in the artist's sale, Christie's, 4 May 1877 (62). According to Rodney Searight: - `Bt Christies, July 12 1972, £84'.
Historical context
The `Egyptian Magician' was Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Maghrabi, a notorious `necromancer' known to E.W. Lane and several other European visitors to Cairo in the 1840s: see, for example, E. Warburton, The Crescent and the Cross, 1844/5, Vol.I, pp.150-3; I. Romer, A Pilgrimage to the Temples and Tombs of Egypt, Nubia, and Palestine in 1845-6, 1846, Vol.II, pp.61-7; also two other portraits, by G.T. Vigne and an anonymous artist (SD.1148 & SD.1316. His visitors, depicted in SD.586, include Henry Abbott (1812-1859), a doctor and collector of antiquities, in Egypt c.1830-51 and 1854-9 (see Dawson and Uphill, 1972); Joseph Bonomi (1796-1878), an artist, traveller and Egyptologist (see SD.120), in Egypt in 1824-33 with Robert Hay of Linplum and in 1842-4 with Richard Lepsius; and Colonel Charles John Barnet (1790-1856), British Consul-General in Egypt 1841-6, and one of the witnesses on 8 May 1847 in Alexandria at Lewis's marriage to Marion Harper (see Lewis, 1978, pp.21-2; also SD.1147). Chevalier Krehmer was the Russian Consul-General in Cairo.
Subjects depicted
Summary
Although this is the roughest of drawings, a composition sketch, or simply on the spot note-taking, it is important because it actually shows an Egyptian Magician, Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Maghrabi, in action, possibly in Lewis’s house. A séance was held there on the 8th December 1841, according to Sir Gardner Wilkinson who was present. The Shayk is clearly visible in the centre, and the huddled form in front of him indicates the young lad kneeling and staring at the drop of ink in his palm, answering difficult questions put to him by the onlookers. Although they are in Eastern dress, they are identified on an old label as prominent members of the European community in Cairo, including Henry Abbott, Joseph Bonomi and Colonel Barnett, British Consul-General in Egypt. For more information on these séances, see the portrait of the Shayk by Geoffey Vigne, SD.1148.
Alas, if Lewis took his Magician picture idea to another stage, it has not yet been rediscovered. The drawing also demonstrates how Lewis often began his pictures with the roughest of ideas dashed down on the spot, and then slowly worked them up into the paintings of exquisite finish that made him famous. Although a number of these very rough sketches survive, the majority seem to have been lost or destroyed.
Bibliographic reference
Green, Richard. J.F. Lewis, R.A. (1805-1876) : Painter of the Desert and Harem. Guildford : Guildford Borough Council Leisure & Recreation Section, 1977 no.97
Collection
Accession number
SD.586

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Record createdFebruary 27, 2008
Record URL
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