John Lewis, Portrait and Scene-painter

(fl. 1750-1757)

Portrait and Scene-painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

Nothing is known of this artist before the year 1750, when he was engaged as a scene-painter at Smock Alley Theatre, then under the management of Thomas Sheridan. He lives in Irish theatrical annals as the first scene-painter to be permanently engaged on the staff of a Dublin playhouse. His association with Smock Alley lasted from 1750 to 1757, and during that period he was responsible for at least one important innovation. At a time when London theatres had nothing but the time-honoured green curtain, Lewis painted a beautiful act-drop for Smock Alley, and was satirized for his pains in a contemporary pamphlet addressed to Sheridan. Victor, in his "History of the Theatres of London and Dublin," 1761, says that Lewis also painted three or four sets of scenes which were much wanted to decorate the theatre. On the retirement of Sheridan from the managership in 1754, Lewis ceased for a time his connection with the theatre, and was succeeded by Robert Carver (q.v.); but when Sheridan resumed the management of Smock Alley, Lewis rejoined him. He painted scenery for "The Emperor of the Moon" in 1757, but after that there is no further trace of him. He appears to have left Ireland in that year, when his friend Sheridan finally relinquished management in Dublin.

During his residence in Dublin Lewis devoted his spare time to painting portraits. In 1753 he painted Thomas Sheridan and Peg Woffington, who was then acting in her native city at Smock Alley. Sowden the actor sat to him, as did also Henry Brooke the dramatist, and his portraits of the two were engraved by Andrew Miller. Lewis also decorated Quilca House, Co. Cavan, when on a visit there with Sheridan. On the wooden ceiling of the "painted parlour" he painted sky and clouds, and adorned the east wall with panels and medallions containing portraits of Milton, Shakespeare, Swift and Dr. Sheridan, supported by allegorical figures, flowers, etc. After 1788, when the house was deserted and fell into decay, the decorations perished, except one panel which was removed and is now in the possession of Mr. O'Farrelly, Rafenny House, Virginia, Co. Cavan.

The following portraits by Lewis are known:

Henry Brooke. Painted in 1755. [? Henry Brooke, 5 Falkner Square, Liverpool]; see "Notes and Queries," 20th February, 1904. Engraved in mezzotint as "The Farmer," by Andrew Miller in 1756.

Thomas Sheridan. Painted in 1753; signed and dated. [T. P. Lefanu, Abington, Bray.]

Thomas Sowden, in the character of Caled in "The Siege of Damascus." Engraved in mezzotint by Andrew Miller in 1754.

Peg Woffington. Signed Jn Lewis April 1753. [National Gallery of Ireland.] This picture formerly belonged to Mr. Barrett of Temora, Frankfort, Queen's Co., and was sent by him to Christie's in 1907 when it was purchased by the National Gallery of Ireland.

Peg Woffington. Signed and dated 1753. Identical with above. [Mrs. Agar, Stanton House, Highworth, Wilts.] One of these pictures was engraved in mezzotint by Michael Jackson (q.v.). In the "Dublin Universal Advertiser" of 8th September, 1753, is a brief poem in Latin, headed "Verses to be placed under the picture of the celebrated Mrs. Woffington." These probably refer to one of the two portraits.

Peg Woffington. A copy, or replica, unsigned, differing from the above in the colour of the mantle and hat, is in the Royal Dublin Society's House, Kildare Street. It has been ascribed at different times to Reynolds and to Latham.

Portrait of a Boy in a Van Dyck dress. Signed and dated 1754. [Mrs. Agar, Stanton House, Highworth, Wilts.]

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