John Frederick Lewis was an English Orientalist painter who traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East. With its brilliant color and stunning detail, Roman Pilgrims is an outstanding example of his virtuoso watercolor technique. Throughout his life, he would be forced to balance his passion for the medium against the preference of art patrons for oils. Complaining to a colleague, he one wrote that: “Generally in spite of all my hard work, I find water colour to be thoroly [sic] unremunerative that I can stand it no longer — it is all, all always, rolling the stone up the hill — no rest, and such little pay!”
In 1858 he resigned as president of the Society of Painters in Water Colours, which forbade its members from exhibiting works in oil. Thereafter his usual practice was to paint the same composition in both formats, the more luminous and expressive watercolor invariably commanding a lesser price than the more rapidly executed oil painting. Though attitudes towards the medium have somewhat improved with the decline of academic realism, modern watercolorists still face much the same dilemma.