Art Term

Orientalist

The term orientalist is used to describe the artists who travelled to the Middle East during the Victorian era in search of new and exotic subjects

John Frederick Lewis, ‘The Siesta’ 1876
John Frederick Lewis
The Siesta 1876
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Sir David Wilkie, ‘His Highness Muhemed Ali, Pacha of Egypt’ 1841
Sir David Wilkie
His Highness Muhemed Ali, Pacha of Egypt 1841
Tate
Thomas Seddon, ‘Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat from the Hill of Evil Counsel’ 1854–5
Thomas Seddon
Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat from the Hill of Evil Counsel 1854–5
Tate

The accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 coincided with the beginning of the great age of rail and steamship travel. Artists from Britain were soon spreading across the world in search of new and exotic subjects. Those who went to the Middle East became known as orientalists.

The lead figure was John Frederick Lewis who spent thirteen years there from 1838, followed by David Roberts, William Müller and Sir David Wilkie. Later contributors include the Pre-Raphaelites, William Holman Hunt and Thomas Seddon, who travelled together to Palestine 1854–6. Hunt later returned there in 1869–72, 1875–8 and 1892.