Two elegantly dressed women in a domestic interior, are engaged in an intriguing dialogue. The one facing the viewer appears to be listening langourously to what her companion is saying, and her features, with rose-bud lips and large almond-shaped eyes, seem to express indifference or scepticism. The response of the seated woman, with her back to the viewer, is unknown, but, despite our ignorance of her facial features, her back, with its short black jacket, and tightly wrapped shawl, reveals a spreading midriff, wonderfully expressive of her comfortable and established position within the household, to which her possibly younger rival may be aspiring.
An almost identical sketch, signed, inscribed and dated J.F.Lewis Brussa/1841, is in the Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester (inv.no. D 1984.4). It was not unusual for Lewis to make two very similar versions of the same sketch; a single, similarly dressed girl also exists in two versions, one signed and inscribed J.F.Lewis Brussa (private collection, London; the other uninscribed, British Museum, London, inv. no. 1953, 1212.11). This was possibly with a view to making a series of lithographs of his Turkish and Egyptian studies, which never materialised. All these figure studies of unveiled women seem to be connected to another exceptionally evocative watercolour sketch of four women, probably all members of the same family, depicted by Lewis in what appears to be their home (sold Christie's, 15 June 2010, lot 10). The household is unlikely to have been Muslim, access to which would have been barred for a male Western artist, but was instead probably one of the wealthy Armenian Christian families prominent in Bursa in the mid-nineteenth century.
We would like to thank Briony Llewellyn for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.