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Abel Lewis

Epithet: Photographer (1839-1914)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: Abel Lewis was a photographer working on the Isle of Man from the mid to late 19th century. On his marriage to Catherine (or Kate) Robinson on 28 January 1863, his address was given as 3 Mount Pleasant, Douglas. His Father was listed as Abraham Lewis, gardener. Witnesses' were Marshall Wane and Rosina Wane. Marshall Wane was also a well-known photographer on the Isle of Man.

He was certainly active as early as 1865 when he captured an image of Henry Irving, actor (See PG/12866)

A reminiscence by Mr Kewley in the Isle of Man Examiner, Friday, March 04, 1927, page 9, illustrates how Lewis was closely entwined in the Manx artistic community. Kewley writes: 'As early as 1860 or 1862, they had formed a quite excellent little orchestra, with Mr. Abel Lewis, afterwards the famous photographer, and Mr. James Nicholson as first violins, Mr. John Nicholson flute, Mr. W. Nicholson 'cello, Mr. Cowell bass, and a cornet, but I don't remember the name of the player. They also started "People's Penny Concerts" in the old Victoria Hall, which were a great success, and where many people gave their help - all amateurs - of course'

Another article From THE ISLE OF MAN TIMES of June 23 1877 describes the new photograpy studio on Finch Road.Art Photography in Douglas:
"We were tempted in a leisure moment a few days ago to pay a visit to the new studio of our townsman, Mr Abel Lewis, in Finch-road, and so charmed were we with an hour spent amidst the art beauties there that we could not resist the temptation of jotting down a few hasty memoranda, which we feel sore will prove welcome to such of our readers as may not yet have penetrated within the precincts of Mr Lewis's new establishment. Now, if one thing more than another impresses the visitor on entering, it is the thorough good taste which Mr Lewis has displayed, not alone in its decorations, but in its entire appointments. The entrance hall is laid with Minton tiles of a really charming pattern. On the right-hand side of the hall is an exquisitely furnished boudoir, hung with some water colour drawing of insular scenery, by Nicholson. This apartment is set apart as a retiring room for ladies. The reception room is really a magnificent apartment. The light and tasteful decoration is in thorough keeping, and shows to advantage the many beautiful and recherche specimens of Mr Lewis's art which abound on all sides. To criticise the merits of these productions would be somewhat needless on our part, the artist's many medals and certificates of honour proving at once that his talents have met with substantial recognition at exhibitions both at home and abroad. Let it suffice to say that amongst the many works which adorn the walls we particularly noticed some fine large portraits of his Excellency the Lieut--Governor and Mrs Loch, Lord Lytton (the present Viceroy of India), Lady Lytton, the Duke of Sutherland, our townsman Mr Dumbell (a very fine portrait), the late Bishop of Sodor and Man , and many other familiar public faces. The portraits on porcelain of children can safely be called chef d'ouvres of miniature painting, reminding us of exquisitely finished enamel. That these portraits are permanent we were pleased to hear, permanency being a long desired acquisition to the photographic art. These beautiful examples of water colour painting form a most pleasing contrast to the many specimens of portraits in monochrome on the same delicate material. Of Mr Lewis's cartes, cabinet, and imperial portraits we examined many, and we were struck with one and all for their beauty of finish, artistic treatment, and lifelike fidelity. It is in this luxuriously furnished saloon that the intending sitter, whilst inspecting the latest triumphs of the photographic art and turning the leaves of the many albums on the table, will, we may safely prophesy, spend most delightfully the 'mauvais quart d'heure' so frequently necessary whilst waiting for one's turn. Having decided upon the style which we thought most desirable we passed through a beautifully arranged anti-room, from which a splendid view of Douglas Bay is obtained, and at once found ourselves in the lofty and extensive range of studios, the arrangements of which seemed to us to be so thoroughly novel and perfect that we should scarcely be doing justice had we not a word to say on the merits of their construction and its other details. Nor should we omit the fact that the builder, in carrying out the designs of Mr Lewis, has throughout achieved a perfect success, combining at once through tbe entire building elegance and solidity of construction. These studios, which from their lofty position command an uninterrupted light, are 70 feet long by 20 wide, thus allowing plenty of room for all description of work, and they are replete with every modern appliance and apparatus for the production of art photography. Nor can we pass over the fact that here ventilation has been thoroughly studied; whilst the skylights are se arranged that at the artist's will they can be opened, thus giving an advantage in securing instantaneous portraits of children or those liable to move. That the sitter should at once feel at home here is evident from the fact that although several successful portraits were taken off in rapid succession we felt for the first time a total absence of that hurry and bustle so frequently prevalent in photographic establishments and annoying to the sitter, a fact which made us express a desire to be more intimately acquainted with the details of photography. With his usual courtesy Mr Lewis kindly conducted us over the entire range of his ateliers and workrooms, situated in the basement floors of his studios, and here at once we found ourselves surrounded by photography with a vengeance. We followed our guide, who explained the working of each process, through the various rooms, where printing, enlarging, mounting, toning, rolling, and lastly framing were carried on, and we must say we were interested much and astonished more at the many processes which a photograph has to undergo from the time the negative leaves the operator's hands till one sees it, truthful, bright recognisable, in the family album. Nor were we less impressed with the perfect order and harmony of working which reigned throughout the entire staff of efficient assistants employed in these extensive premies. With a farewell glance at some hundreds of photographs being packed for delivery to their various destinations, all equally good and well executed to our eye, we followed our affable conductor out into the garden, and here again Mr Lewis's artistic zeal once more made itself manifest by the delightful arrangements made for taking family and other groups on the lawn. Here a croquet or pleasure party desiring a souvenir of their trip to Mona's Isle can be photographed instantaneously, or spend a pleasant half-hour in viewing the bay that reminds so much of Naples, only wanting its ethereal sky to complete so charming an illusion"

According to the Ramsey Courier (Friday, February 07, 1958; page 3), another acomplished photographer, George Bellett Cowen, started his photography career working for Lewis.

Adverts were still appearing in the Manx press up to 1890 but by 1891, Abel had left the Island and was living in Bristol according to the census. He was still in Bristol in 1901 and 1911. His son Percy was a photographer - later a musician. According to probate records, his address when he died was 50 Downs Park East, Westbury upon Trym, Bristol. His widow was named as Catherine and son Percy - was described as a Professor of Music. Abel's assets amounted to £6 390 12s and 1d.

Lewis' photography was celebrated in a mini exhibition in the Library corridor at the Manx Museum in 1983.

Occupation / profession: photographer

Nationality: Enflish

Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1839

Place of birth: Granchester, Cambridge

Date of death: 1914

Place of death: Bristol, England, Great Britain, Europe

External sources: 3 Mount Pleasant, 29 Prospect Hill and 10 Finch Road


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