Joseph Austin Benwell Bicentenary 1816-2016

The year 2016 marked the bicentenary of Joseph Austin Benwell’s birth, on 26 May 1816 at 35 Canterbury Square, Southwark, London
It also marked 130 years since his death on 13 May 1886 at Abingdon Villas, Kensington, London. 

Many people, although possibly familiar with some aspects of his work (particularly his depiction of Florence Nightingale and his paintings of desert caravans), have no idea how varied and prolific he was in his output. In many ways he was a typical Victorian travelling artist, but arguably with a more diverse output than others.  In the book 'The Orientalists - Painter-Travellers 1828-1908' (Lynne Thornton, 1983) is stated of Benwell "The subjects were almost exclusively scenes of Egypt, the Sinai and Jerusalem, very often of caravans headed by white camels." Generally, of nineteenth century Orientalist paintings Thornton states "Each has its story to tell, of travel and adventure, sights and customs now changed forever, of the gradual lifting of the veils of myth and mystery in which the Orient had been shrouded, and of the heady discoveries of exoticism by Westerners accustomed to the greyness of the northern industrialized cities." 

Benwell is a good example of the genre of Victorian travelling artists who, before the days of modern mass media communications, were undeniably influential in shaping the British public’s perceptions of foreign lands and religions. He was a prolific artist with a varied output ranging from woodcuts and engravings for books and journals to large paintings and watercolours. A skilled draughtsman and also an accomplished watercolourist, Benwell had an eye for detail and specialised in recording scenes involving groups of people in unique settings, with a definite 'sense of place'. His vignettes capture people and places as they were in the mid to late nineteenth century.

 'The Great Sphinx of Giza' 1886    (or,   'Resting caravan in front of the Sphinx of Giza'; or,   'Halt by the Sphynx, Egypt') 

'Tunis water-carriers' - Illustrated London News, 1864

  'Sketch of a ward at the hospital at Scutari' c1855  (depiction of Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War)

Material researched and written by Dee Murray. Website compiled by Dee Murray. All rights reserved.

All images on this website are either scanned or photographed from the author’s own resources, appear with permission of owners/copyright holders, or are in the public domain in digital format via websites such as HathiTrust, Openlibrary.orgthe Internet Archive ( or Google Books. 

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