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An Oriental Interior

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Walton on Thames (painted)

  • Date:

    1863 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Lewis, John Frederick RA POWCS, born 1805 - died 1876 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Joshua Dixon

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 125c, case 3

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.

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.)

Place of Origin

Walton on Thames (painted)


1863 (painted)


Lewis, John Frederick RA POWCS, born 1805 - died 1876 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

oil on panel

Marks and inscriptions

J. F. Lewis ARA 1863
Signature; date; Front: bottom right hand corner; Painting; oil paint


Height: 32.4 cm, Width: 20 cm

Object history note

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.

Descriptive line

An Oriental Interior, (A Startling Account, Constantinople) oil painting on panel by John Frederick Lewis 1863.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

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.

Labels and date

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 []


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted



Black History; Paintings

Production Type



Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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