The Siesta. John Frederick Lewis (1804-1876). 1876. Oil on canvas: H. 88.6 x W. 111.1 cm. Tate Britain. Accession number: N03594. Acquisition method: purchased 1921. The work has been released under the Creative Commons licence: see bibliography for the link. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Like so many of Lewis's works, this one was painted after his return to England, and has an element of fantasy, of looking in on a secret world to which neither we the artist can ever really belong. As a harem painting, it is even more "other" for the male, and there is an added frisson of forbidden seeing: Mary Roberts points out that although the woman is sleeping, and utterly passive in that respect, her bodice is enticingly open. The poppies which also draw the eye suggest a depth of slumber rather than a light afternoon rest — although it seems too much to suggest, as Roberts does, that they might indicate "an opium-induced oblivion" (76). Even more attractive here than the sleeping woman is the pattern made by the sunlight passing through windows and screens on the diaphanous curtains, the cloth on the small table, the carpet.... the play of light and shade on texture make this a true (or magical?) visual feast. — Jacqueline Banerjee

Related material


Roberts, Mary. Intimate Outsiders: The Harem in Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel Literature. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007.

Created 29 August 2019