Martin Lewis was born in Castlemaine, Australia, in 1881. After running away from home at the age of fifteen, he studied briefly at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney. This was his only formal training.
Lewis immigrated to the United States around 1900 and worked for a time in San Francisco. Eventually, he settled in New York City, which was to be his home for the rest of his life, other than a few years during the Depression when he left the city to live in western Connecticut.
Early on, Lewis supported himself as a commercial artist. He was thirty-four when he issued his first prints. Almost entirely self-taught, he relied on contemporary published manuals for instruction. He did not begin distributing or exhibiting his prints seriously until 1927, when he was given his first exhibition at Kennedy Galleries. He received immediate critical acclaim and enjoyed considerable success for the following ten years.
After the Depression, Lewis received little attention other than as a teacher at the Art Students League from 1944 to 1951. He died in relative obscurity in 1962.
Since his death, Lewis has become recognized as a leading American printmaker and his works can be found in some of the finest collections in the world. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Library of Congress are among the many important domestic institutions that have his work in their collections. Internationally, his work is in the National Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, and in the collection of the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
Martin Lewis was a member of the Society of American Etchers and the American Watercolor Society. His work was exhibited at the Library of Congress and he was the recipient of many prizes, including the Society of American Etchers, 1926 and 1940; the Philadelphia Print Club, 1930 and 1931; the National Arts Club, 1926; Chicago Society of Etchers, 1929; the Boston Arts Club, 1929; the New York Watercolor Club, 1929; and the American Watercolor Society, 1929. A retrospective exhibition was held in 1973 at Kennedy Galleries.