EDWARD LEAR 1812-1888
View of Jerusalem 1859
Monogram and dated 1859, lower right
Watercolor + Gouache
25 1/2 cm x 34 1/2 cm
10 x 13 1/2 inches
Exceptional artwork by Edward Lear.
Views of Jerusalem are always very high collectibles, one of the rare views still in private hands
Lear was already drawing “for bread and cheese” by the time he was aged 16 and soon developed into a serious “ornithological draughtsman” employed by the Zoological Society and then from 1832-36 by the Earl of Derby, who had a private menagerie. His first publication, published when he was 19, was Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots in 1830. His paintings were well received and he was favourably compared with Audubon.
Edward Lear, who showed an early interest in drawing the natural world, came to Knowsley through a fortuitous connection with the 13th Earl of Derby. In June 1830, Lear applied to the Zoological Society of London to request permission to draw from their collection of parrots, with a view to publishing his own book Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae. Lord Stanley, later 13th Earl of Derby, who as a young man had begun to collect natural history books and drawings, happened to chair the meeting where this application was approved.
Lord Stanley subsequently commissioned Lear to paint the birds and mammals from the aviary and menagerie which he had set up at Knowsley. During the years 1831–1837 that Lear was at Knowsley, his relationship with Edward Stanley became increasingly less formal. Over this period, in addition to drawing and painting, Lear entertained the children of the Stanley family. In fact, he dedicated his first collection of rhymes, published as A Book of Nonsense in 1846, to the 13th Earl’s great-grandchildren, grand-nephews, and grand-nieces.
In 1837, Lear left Knowsley for Rome, a move which was fully supported by Edward Stanley, now 13th Earl of Derby, as part of his personal and artistic development. With a base in Rome, the artist travelled for the following eleven years through Italy, and it was during this period that he established himself as a landscape painter. However, Lear’s connection with the Stanley family was retained as he sent paintings back to the 13th Earl. Also later, after the death of the 13th Earl, as Lear travelled through southern Europe and further afield, the 14th and 15th Earls of Derby continued to buy Lear’s work.
Lear travelled for three years in Italy from 1837 and published two volumes of illustrations, Illustrated Excursions in Italy, the first of many such books. Lear briefly gave drawing lessons to Queen Victoria, who had been pleased by the Excursions and summoned him to court, leading to some awkward incidents when he failed to observe proper court protocol. Lear then returned to the Mediterranean, wishing to illustrate all points along the coast of that sea.
Among other trips, he visited Greece and Egypt in 1848-49, and toured the length of India and Ceylon in 1873-75. While travelling he produced large quantities of coloured wash drawings in a distinctive style, which he worked up back in his studio into oils and watercolours, as well as prints for his books. His landscape style often shows views with strong sunlight, with intense contrasts of colour.
Throughout his life he continued to paint seriously. He had a lifelong ambition to illustrate Tennyson’s poems; near the end of his life a volume with a small number of illustrations was published, but his vision for the work was never realized.