Object of the Month: March 2024


Published: 28 February 2024


Kathleen Edith Lewis (1907-2003)

Oil painting on canvas, c. 1930s

Chosen by:
Dr Lydia Miller, Assistant Curator at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

Gift of Mrs Penelope Harris, 2007

Bottles by Kathleen Edith Lewis © the Artist’s Estate

Bottles by Kathleen Edith Lewis © the Artist’s Estate


Forget fruit and flowers, Kathleen Edith Lewis pushed the boundaries of still life to skilfully explore light and reflection in this unusual painting of chemical apparatus, medical bottles, and a powder round.

Relatively little is known about the artist. She was born Kathleen Edith Hansom in Dulwich, London, where she continued to live with her mother and brother after her father’s death in 1921. Her brother Stanley died in the massacre at Long Nawang in Dutch Borneo (Indonesia) in 1942 during the Second World War. Kathleen trained as an artist at Regent Street Polytechnic, London before settling in Caterham, Surrey with her husband – local GP Charles Bernard Lewis. It is likely that the apparatus in this still life belonged to her husband.

Test-tubes are haphazardly placed in their stand, an open box of matches can be seen to the far right, and although the label on the blue bottle is illegible, it is likely this is a medicine bottle. The bright red powder in the central bottle could be ‘dragon’s blood’, a plant-based resin used throughout history to treat ulcers, skin complaints and as an anti-viral. Its presentation in a powder round – a bottle with a wide neck to allow a spoon to be inserted, and ground glass to fit a tight stopper – signifies that this powder is probably medicinal rather than chemical in nature.

Kathleen Edith Lewis has an interesting connection to Leicester Museum & Art Gallery. She was the great grand-daughter of Joseph Aloysius Hansom who was the architect of the building and also the inventor of the Hansom Cab, a two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage which aimed to combine safety and speed.

The Object of the Month can be seen in person throughout March at Leicester Museum & Art Gallery.