Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 125c

An Oriental Interior

Oil Painting
1863 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

At first sight, this painting is an exotic and rather subtle version of what must have been a fairly common Victorian domestic drama. In a Turkish interior, a rich Persian is upbraiding his shifty-looking servants, having been presented with alarmingly high household bills. For some unexplained reason, Lewis does not indicate that it is also a portrait of Prince Hulugu Mirza, the cousin of the reigning Shah of Persia.

Lewis and the painter David Wilkie were both in Constantinople in 1840, and both had visited and produced several portraits of the Prince, his servants and his new Circassian slave. Hulugu was in exile, as his father had tried unsuccessfully to seize the throne. According to David Wilkie the Prince was 'living at Constantinople on a pension allowed him by the Turkish Government. Having been active in political intrigue, his return to his native country would be unwelcome to the existing power, and dangerous to himself.' Presumably the pension was not big enough to pay all the bills. Wilkie had wanted to use the noble head of the Prince as a model for a figure of Christ, while Lewis (perhaps aware of Wilkie's intention) slyly portrays the Prince as an all-too-human being.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Additional Titles
  • A Startling Account, Constantinople (assigned by artist)
  • Portrait of Prince Hulugu Mirza (generic title)
Materials and Techniques
oil on panel
Brief Description
An Oriental Interior, (A Startling Account, Constantinople) oil painting on panel by John Frederick Lewis 1863.
Physical Description
Oil painting on panel showing a bearded Persian wearing a fur trimmed robe and a kalpak, seated on a divan, reading a set of accounts in the presence of three of his servants who are bringing him his coffee and his nargile (hookah.)
Dimensions
  • Height: 32.4cm
  • Width: 20cm
Styles
Production typeunique
Marks and Inscriptions
J. F. Lewis ARA 1863 (Signature; date; Front: bottom right hand corner; Painting; oil paint)
Gallery Label
John Frederick Lewis 1804/5-1876 A Startling Account, Constantinople Signed and dated 1863 A rich Persian is upbraiding his servants for the alarmingly high household bills. This is a portrait of Hulagu Mirza, a cousin of the Shah of Iran. At the time of Lewis's visit, Hulagu was in exile in Istanbul after an unsuccessful attempt by his father to seize the shah's throne. Oil on painting Bequeathed by John Dixon 1886 Museum no. 1005-1886
Credit line
Bequeathed by Joshua Dixon
Object history
Bequeathed by Joshua Dixon, 1886

This oil painting was exhibited at the RA in 1864 with the title`A Startling Account'. This title [instead of `An oriental interior'] is confirmed by the fact that a watercolour version of our painting, almost identical, though slightly bigger, probably made before the oil, was sold at Christie's June 12th 1973, lot 127, illustrated in sale cat. plate 8. as:-



"DISPUTING ACCOUNTS signed and dated 1863-pencil and watercolour heightened with white 13 1/2 x 11 1/4 in. (342 x 287mm.) From the collection of the late Edward Le Bas RA. Provenance: Robert Arnold Cosier; Christie's March 4, 1887 lot 76, (265 gns to Webb.)"

[Lot 127 was bought by Colnaghi for 1900 guineas.]

From the 1850s right up to the end of his life, Lewis seems to have made a watercolour version of a subject first and then prepared an oil replica for the RA.
Subjects depicted
Place Depicted
Summary
At first sight, this painting is an exotic and rather subtle version of what must have been a fairly common Victorian domestic drama. In a Turkish interior, a rich Persian is upbraiding his shifty-looking servants, having been presented with alarmingly high household bills. For some unexplained reason, Lewis does not indicate that it is also a portrait of Prince Hulugu Mirza, the cousin of the reigning Shah of Persia.



Lewis and the painter David Wilkie were both in Constantinople in 1840, and both had visited and produced several portraits of the Prince, his servants and his new Circassian slave. Hulugu was in exile, as his father had tried unsuccessfully to seize the throne. According to David Wilkie the Prince was 'living at Constantinople on a pension allowed him by the Turkish Government. Having been active in political intrigue, his return to his native country would be unwelcome to the existing power, and dangerous to himself.' Presumably the pension was not big enough to pay all the bills. Wilkie had wanted to use the noble head of the Prince as a model for a figure of Christ, while Lewis (perhaps aware of Wilkie's intention) slyly portrays the Prince as an all-too-human being.
Bibliographic References
  • Major-General J.M. Lewis, CBE, John Frederick Lewis, R.A. 1805-1876, Leigh-on-Sea, 1978, no.588, p.95
  • Briony Llewellyn `David Wilkie and John Frederick Lewis in Constantinople, 1840: an artistic dialogue.' The Burlington Magazine September 2003, no.1206 Vol CXLV, pp.624-631.
Collection
Accession Number
1005-1886

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdJanuary 16, 2001
Record URL