Henry Roderick Newman was born in Easton, New York and grew up in New York City. While in his late teens he came under the influence of the American Pre-Raphaelite Thomas C. Farrer and began to execute meticulous and richly detailed nature studies. In 1864 he was elected a member of the Association for the Advancement of Truth in Art. Health problems led Newman to travel to Europe in 1870, first to France and then to Italy. He soon settled permanently in Florence and became a prominent member of the city's English-speaking colony. There John Ruskin became his champion -- acquiring still lifes, scenic views, and architectural renderings and helping him find patrons. He participated in Ruskin's Guild of St. George and created drawings and watercolors documenting early Italian art and architecture that was under threat of destruction.
From 1887 to 1915, Newman spent almost every winter in Egypt (information provided by Royal W. Leith). Over the years he created numerous watercolors of temples and monuments which form an impressive visual record of ancient architecture and sculpture. For these works Newman developed a system of dating with opus numbers. He kept manuscript records of his travels in the country and his activities are noted in the letters of the American Egyptologist Charles Edwin Wilbour. Among other American artists to work in Egypt during the late 19th and 20th centuries were Henry Bacon, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Frederic Edwin Church, Sanford Gifford, Elihu Vedder, Frederic Arthur Bridgeman, Charles Sprague Pearce, Edwin Lord Weeks, H. Siddons Mowbray, John Singer Sargent and Edwin H. Blashfield.
"Among the Ruins of Philae" dates from January 19, 1893 and is inscribed with the opus number 816. It was first owned by the noted art collector and amateur archeologist Theodore Davis. The work was executed during the period when Newman was spending winters on the island of Philae, which is located near Aswan in southern Egypt, and depicts the eastern colonnade of the outer court in the foreground and a glimpse of the Temple of Isis in the background. When depicting the temples of Philae Newman consistently chose a vantage point from under a colonnade, focused on a small portion of the structure, and included a few human figures. Newman faithfully reproduces the various hieroglyphs and symbols that adorn the temple. He applies his favored medium of watercolor in a loose, soft and delicate manner, reflective of his later style.