Another prominent member of the expatriate community during the mid-nineteenth century was Sir John Gardner Wilkinson (1797-1875), who by the 1840s, had gained acclaim and fame for his ground-breaking studies in Egyptology. During and after his 12 year sojourn in Egypt between 1821 and 1833, when he was based mainly at ancient Thebes (Luxor), Wilkinson published several articles and books on the subject. His most famous work was Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, published in 1837, which established him as the ‘Father of British Egyptology’. Its description of ancient Egyptian society, with numerous illustrations, caught the popular imagination, and passed through many editions during the course of the 19th century. In 1839 his achievements were recognised with a knighthood.
Wilkinson revisited Egypt another four times between 1841 and 1856, and during the first of these return trips he met Lewis at least twice. On 8 December 1841, he was among those gathered at Lewis’s house for a séance of the notorious Egyptian Magician, Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Maghrabi. Later that month, a brief entry in Wilkinson’s Journal for 1841-42 reads: ‘Saty 18 Dec dined with Col. Barnet at 6. Met Mr Lewis and Mr Coste’ (The Griffith Institute, University of Oxford, Wilkinson MSS. 1.69). There are indirect connections too: in February 1842 both Lewis and Wilkinson are listed as members (the latter an honorary one, as he had by then left Cairo) in a pamphlet published by the Literary Association of Egypt, newly established as a forum for those interested in Egyptian antiquities. In January 1844 both men are in Cairo and moving in the same circles, since both are mentioned in a letter written by Bonomi to a friend (Private Collection of Bonomi Papers). Later in the decade, Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Egypt was published (1847) and in it Wilkinson, who was its author, writes of the drawings of Cairo, ‘this truly Eastern capital, which we may shortly hope to receive from the hand of Mr. Lewis’. Most pertinent of all is the evidence in a sale from Lewis’s studio held in 1855, a few years after his return from Egypt, in which lot 129 is ‘Sir Gardiner[sic] Wilkinson, in Oriental Costume’ (Christie’s, 5 July 1855, bought by the dealer, William Vokins). A portrait of ‘Sir G. Wilkinson’ is also listed in a letter of 14 April 1857 from Lewis to another dealer, John Scott (Private Collection). Another similarly sized version of the portrait that is here identified as likely to be of Wilkinson, exists in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (WA.OA966), currently titled Study of a Seated Oriental Man, smoking. The figure is almost identical, but added, lower right, is a brass-mounted glass nargile (or hookah) from which the man is smoking.
The sitter in these two portraits is a fair-skinned man with a long flowing moustache and blue eyes, whose hooded eye-lids droop down at the corners. He wears a red fez over a white skull-cap, over the top of which is the hood of his large cloak or wrap. He seems to acknowledge this awkward accumulation of Oriental garb with wry amusement, accentuating his youthful looks. Another portrait by Lewis shows an unidentified man with the same features, notably the bushy moustache and the heavily-lidded eyes, wearing a fez and more conventional Ottoman attire (with Spink & Son, London, 1985-86, titled An Englishman in Greek Dress), who, on the basis of the argument made here, is also likely to represent Wilkinson.
Wilkinson’s fame during his lifetime resulted in several known portraits of him. Among these, made at around the same time as the Lewis portraits, are drawings by William Brockedon, 1838, and Alfred, Count d’Orsay, 1839 (both, National Portrait Gallery, NPG 2515(86) and NPG 4026(28)), and by Godfrey Thomas Vigne, 1844 (Victoria and Albert Museum, SD.1156). These show a man with very similar facial characteristics to the sitter in the portraits by Lewis, most significantly the fine walrus moustache, with the ends twirled upwards slightly to a point. The most widely known portrait of Wilkinson is a painting by Henry Wyndham Phillips, Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, aged 46, in Turkish Dress, 1844 (The National Trust: Calke Abbey, Derbyshire). His features, youthful, despite his 46 years, are also strikingly similar to those of the man in the Lewis portraits. Moreover, his waistcoat and shirt, and his left arm cradling the Ottoman curved sabre known as a kilij, seem to be reflected in the second portrait by Lewis (ex Spink’s), identified here as of Wilkinson.
While not conclusive, the evidence that the present portrait represents Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, seems compelling. We would like to thank Briony Llewellyn for cataloguing this work.
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