Monday, 20 March 2017

Edward Lear - part 1

This is an introduction to a major series (21 parts) on the works of Edward Lear.


1840 Edward Lear by Wilhelm Nicolai Marstrand
pencil 18.2 x 11 cm
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Edward Lear (1812  - 1888) was an English artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet, and is known now mostly for his literary nonsense in poetry and prose and especially his limericks, a form he popularised. His principal areas of work as an artist were threefold: as a draughtsman employed to illustrate birds and animals; making coloured drawings during his journeys, which he reworked later, sometimes as plates for his travel books; as an illustrator of Alfred Tennyson's poems. As an author, he is known principally for his popular nonsense collections of poems, songs, short stories, botanical drawings, recipes, and alphabets. He also composed and published twelve musical settings of Tennyson's poetry.

Lear was born into a middle-class family in Holloway, North London, the penultimate of twenty-one children. He was raised by his eldest sister Ann, 21 years his senior. Owing to the family's limited finances, Lear and his sister were required to leave the family home and live together when he was aged four. Ann doted on Edward and continued to act as a mother for him until her death, when he was almost 50 years of age.

Lear suffered from lifelong health afflictions – he suffered frequent grand mal epileptic seizures, and during later life, partial blindness. Lear experienced his first seizure at a fair near Highgate with his father. The event scared and embarrassed him. Lear felt lifelong guilt and shame for his epileptic condition. His adult diaries indicate that he always sensed the onset of a seizure in time to remove himself from public view. When Lear was about seven years old he began to show signs of depression, possibly due to the instability of his childhood. He suffered from periods of severe melancholia.

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 to 1836 by the Earl of Derby, who kept a private menagerie at his estate, Knowsley Hall. Lear's first publication, published when he was 19 years old, was Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots in 1830. One of the greatest ornithological artists of his era, he contributed to John Gould’s works and was compared favourably with the naturalist John James Audubon.

“Illustrated Excursions in Italy” 1842-46

Among other travels, he visited Greece and Egypt during 1848–49, and toured India and Ceylon during 1873–75. While travelling he produced large quantities of coloured wash drawings in a distinctive style, which he converted later in his studio into oil and watercolours, as well as prints for his books. His landscape style often shows views with strong sunlight, with intense contrasts of colour.
Between 1878 and 1883 Lear spent his summers on Monte Generoso, a mountain on the border between the Swiss canton of Ticino and the Italian region of Lombardy. His oil painting The Plains of Lombardy from Monte Generoso is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK.

1880 The Plains of Lombardy from Monte Generoso
oil on canvas 24 x 47 cm
The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford, UK

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.

In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went to three editions and helped popularise the form and the genre of literary nonsense. In 1871 he published Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, which included his most famous nonsense song, The Owl and the Pussycat which he wrote for the children of his patron Edward Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby. Many other works followed.

1846 A Book of Nonsense by Derry Down Derry
2 parts in 2 volumes

Lear's nonsense works are distinguished by a facility of verbal invention and a poet's delight in the sounds of words, both real and imaginary. A stuffed rhinoceros becomes a "diaphanous doorscraper." A "blue Boss-Woss" plunges into "a perpendicular, spicular, orbicular, quadrangular, circular depth of soft mud." His heroes are Quangle-Wangles, Pobbles, and Jumblies. One of his most famous verbal inventions, the phrase "runcible spoon," occurs in the closing lines of The Owl and the Pussycat and is now found in many English dictionaries.

Lear played the accordion, flute, and guitar, but primarily the piano. He composed music for many Romantic and Victorian poems, but was known mostly for his many musical settings of Tennyson's poetry. He published four settings in 1853, five in 1859, and three in 1860. Lear's were the only musical settings that Tennyson approved of. Lear also composed music for many of his nonsense songs, including "The Owl and the Pussy-cat," but only two of the scores have survived, the music for "The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò" and "The Pelican Chorus." While he never played professionally, he did perform his own nonsense songs and his settings of others' poetry at countless social gatherings, sometimes adding his own lyrics (as with the song "The Nervous Family"), and sometimes replacing serious lyrics with nursery rhymes.

The closest he came to marriage was two proposals, both to the same woman 46 years his junior, which were not accepted. For companions he relied instead on friends and correspondents, and especially, during later life, on his Albanian Souliote chef, Giorgis, a faithful friend and, as Lear complained, a thoroughly unsatisfactory chef. Another trusted companion in San Remo was his cat, Foss, who died in 1886 and was buried with some ceremony in a garden at Villa Tennyson.

Lear and Foss by Lear

Lear travelled widely throughout his life and eventually settled in San Remo, on his beloved Mediterranean coast, in the 1870s, at a villa he named "Villa Tennyson." Lear was known to introduce himself with a long pseudonym: "Mr Abebika kratoponoko Prizzikalo Kattefello Ablegorabalus Ableborinto phashyph" or "Chakonoton the Cozovex Dossi Fossi Sini Tomentilla Coronilla Polentilla Battledore & Shuttlecock Derry down Derry Dumps"

After a long decline in his health, Lear died at his villa in 1888 of heart disease, from which he had suffered since at least 1870. Lear's funeral was said to be a sad, lonely affair by the wife of Dr. Hassall, Lear's physician, none of Lear's many lifelong friends being able to attend. He is buried in the Cemetery Foce in San Remo. On his headstone are inscribed these lines about Mount Tomohrit (in Albania) from Tennyson's poem To E.L. [Edward Lear], On His Travels in Greece:
                              all things fair.
With such a pencil, such a pen.
You shadow forth to distant men,
I read and felt that I was there.

Edward Lear’s published works:
1830-32 Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae or Parrots
1833-35 A Monograph of the  Ramphastidae, or Family of Toucans
1832-36 A Monograph of Testudinata (Turtles)
1841 Views in Rome and its Environs
1846 Gleanings from the Menagerie at Knowsley Hall
1846 Illustrated Excursions in Italy
1846 Book of Nonsense (1846)
1851 Journal of a Landscape Painter in Greece and Albania
1852 Journal of a Landscape Painter in Southern Calabria
1862 Book of Nonsense and More Nonsense
1863 Views in the Seven Ionian Isles
1870 Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica
1871 Nonsense Songs and Stories
1872 More Nonsense Songs, Pictures, etc.
1877 Laughable Lyrics
1888 Nonsense Botany
1889 Tennyson’s Poems, illustrated by Lear

Lear’s Travels:

1838-44 Italy
1845 Alban Hills, and Volscian Mountains, Italy
1847 Sicily, Calabria, and Campagna, Italy
1847 Greece and the Greek Islands, Turkey, and Albania
1849 Egypt, and Greece
1851 England
1853-54 Egypt
1856 Corfu
1858 Israel, and Jordan
1860 Italian Riviera
1861 Tuscany
1862 Corfu
1864-65 France
1865 Malta
1866 Yugoslavia
1867 Egypt, and Ravenna, Italy
1868 French Riviera, and Corsica, France
1873-74 India

1878-83 Italian Alps

This is part 1 of 21- part series on the works of Edward Lear, featuring his early work on Parrots and Toucans:

1830 -32 Parrots:


Eclectus Roratus Polychloros
watercolour and gouache over graphite or chalk 55.7 x 37.5 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Title page

Psittacus badiceps.
Bay-headed parrot

Plyctolophus rosaceus.
Salmon-crested cockatoo

Plyctolophus galeritus.
Greater sulphur-crested cockatoo

Plyctolophus sulphureus.
Lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo

Plyctolophus leadbeateri.
Leadbeater's cockatoo

Calyptorhynchus baudinii.
Baudin's cockatoo

Macrocercus aracanga.
Red and yellow macaw

Macrocercus ararauna.
Blue and yellow macaw

Macrocercus hyacinthinus.
Hyacinthine macaw

Psittacara patagonica.
Patagonian parrakeet-macaw

Psittacara leptorhyncha.
Long-billed parrakeet-macaw

Psittacara nana.
Dwarf parrakeet macaw

Nanodes undulatus.
Undulated parrakeet

Platycercus erythropterus.
Crimson-winged parakeet

Platycercus erythropterus.
Crimson-winged parrakeet

Platycercus tabuensis.
Tabuan parrakeet

Platycercus baueri.
Bauer's parrakeet

Platycercus barnardi.
Barnard's parrakeet

Platycercus palliceps.
Paleheaded parrakeet

Platycercus brownii.
Brown's parrakeet

Platycercus pileatus.
Red-capped parrakeet

Platycercus pileatus.
Red-capped parrakeet

Platycercus stanleyii.
Stanley parrakeet

Platycercus stanleyii.
Stanley parrakeet

Platycercus unicolor.
Uniform parrakeet

Platycercus pacificus.
Pacific parrakeet

Palæornis novæ-hollandiæ.
New Holland parrakeet

Palæornis melanura.
Black-tailed parrakeet

Palæornis anthopeplus.
Blossom-feathered parrakeet

Palæornis rosaceus.
Roseate parrakeet

Palæornis columboides.
Pigeon parrakeet

Palæornis cucullatus.
Hooded parrakeet

Palæornis torquatus.
Roseringed parrakeet. Yellow variety

Trichoglossus rubritorquis.
Scarlet-collared parrakeet

Trichoglossus matoni.
Maton's parrakeet

Trichoglossus versicolor.
Variegated parrakeet

Lorius domicella.
Black-capped lory

Psittacula kuhlii.
Kuhl's parrakeet

Psittacula taranta.
Abyssinian parrakeet

Psittacula torquata.
Collared parrakeet

Psittacula rubrifrons.
Red-fronted parrakeet

Psittacula swinderniana.
Swindern's parrakeet

1833-35 Toucans:


Ramphastos Vitellinus ( Illiger )
hand-coloured lithograph 47.9 x 29.2 cm

Toucan

Toucans

Toucan

Toucans

Toucans

Toucans

Toucans

Toucan

Toucans

Toucans

Toucan

Toucans

Toucan

Toucans

Toucan

Toucans

Toucan

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