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Notes on Lewis Evans and his Portrait

Notes on Lewis Evans and his portrait

Lewis Evans (1853-1930) was the son of Sir John Evans, the antiquary, and great grandson of Rev Lewis Evans, the mathematical teacher. Combining these family interests, he became a connoisseur and collector of antique mathematical instruments, especially sundials. His first instruments were acquired at the age of 11; and his collection includes some of his great grandfather's instruments, presumably family heirlooms. But most of his collection (not only of instruments but also of related books and manuscripts) was built up from the 1870s onwards from purchases in the sale rooms and from dealers. He was careful and selective in his collecting, making known his preference for signed or marked, and dated or datable, pieces, and for those which were technically unimpeachable. He was unlike most other collectors of the time in the extent of his technical understanding of the things he collected, and in his rigorous thematic and qualitative specialisation. Occasionally he displayed items to societies and lent to museum exhibitions. He lent several of his astrolabes for temporary exhibition in Oxford in 1919, and presented his entire collection to the University in 1924.

The portrait is by W. E. Miller, who was also a collector of antique sundials, clocks, etc., and who gave such items to various museums (especially the V&A). Evans has chosen to be portrayed holding an ivory diptych dial of about 1600, probably by Hans Tucher the elder of Nuremberg (G.214 = inv.41986). The other instruments shown in the photograph of the portrait are also real pieces from Evans's collection. Unfortunately since this photograph was taken the painting has been cut down and the background instruments painted out. The Evans family have recently deposited the portrait on loan to the University of Oxford, and it hangs above the sundial collections in the Museum of the History of Science.

On Evans and his collection see:
A. V. Simcock (ed.), Robert T. Gunther and the Old Ashmolean (Oxford, 1985)
A. V. Simcock, 'An Ark for the History of Science', in Iatul Quarterly, vol.1 no.3, 1987, pp.196-215
and sources cited in footnote 12 of the latter.

January 1988

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