Edward Lear and Frederic Church

Commenting on Edward Lear’s impressive painting of Beachy Head, in her recent Inventing Edward Lear, Sara Lodge writes, among much more:

In Beachy Head, Lear directly recalls the dramatic composition of [Frederic] Church’s The Icebergs in a way that is immediately apparent when one sees the two images side by side. The left foreground is a dark and cold foreshore; the sea occupies the middle distance, flowing into a curved bay. But the focus of both paintings is the luminous white expanse of rock / ice that rises sheer in the upper right of the picture, suggesting both the beauty and the harshness of ‘the North’, a title Lear also entertained for his work. It is fascinating that Lear chose to portray the south coast of England as if it were an Arctic landscape. One could see this as a domestication of the Romantic wilderness. However, the opposite is also true. Lear dramatically alienates England in this picture, representing it at its extremity as a strange, cold place whose  eroded cliffs are as forbidding as they are impressive.

On Lear and Beachy Head also see: Edward Lear Visits Beachy Head with His Sister Sarah.

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Harriet Lear’s Copy of Journals of a Landscape Painter in Southern Calabria

Edward Lear, Journals of a Landscape Painter in Southern Calabria. London: Bentley 1852.
Large 8vo, with presentation inscription ‘Harriet Lear from her brother Edward, Nov. 29 1853’, plates as required (one with partial tear without loss), in worn half binding.

The Saleroom.

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Edward Lear, Valletta, Malta

Edward Lear, Valletta, Malta.
Signed with monogram l.r. Watercolour over pencil heightened with bodycolour. 11.3 by 18.3cm.; 4½ by 7¼in.

Lear’s first trip to Malta, which he described as ‘that much beloved place’ (see Lady Strachey, ed., The Letters of Edward Lear, 1907, pp.243-44), was in 1848 on his way from Italy to Greece, but on that occasion he had little time for drawing. Finding himself in Malta again in 1862, on his way from Corfu back to England, he took the opportunity to make a few drawings of the island. He also spent a lonely winter there from December 1865 to April 1866. Malta has since the sixteenth century been the headquarters of the Knights of St. John, now known as the Knights of Malta.  Its position in the central Mediterranean with access to central and Eastern Europe as well as Africa, means it has always been of vital naval strategic importance. Charles V gave the islands to the Knights of Malta in 1530, on a perpetual lease, following their expulsion from their previous headquarters in Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman aggression continued and gained an air of invincibility when half the Christian Alliance Fleet were destroyed at the Battle of Djerba in 1560. An attack on Malta was inevitable and had the Turks pressed forward immediately it is impossible to see how they would have been repelled. As it was their delay allowed Alliance forces to rebuild. A vast fleet set sail from Constantinople and arrived off Malta in May. The following siege, which lasted until September, was one of the bloodiest in history and the eventual Maltese victory was received with a mixture of relief and jubilation by the courts of Europe. The city of Valetta was constructed following the victory and named after Jean Parisot de la Valette, the Grand Master, who had commanded the defence of the island. It fortified the Xiberras peninsula and reinforced the knights command of the island. They retained control until 1798 when Malta was taken by Napoleon en route to his invasion of Egypt. Nelson’s great victory at The Battle of the Nile in August of that year was the beginning of the end of French dominance in the Mediterranean. Malta fell to the British in 1800 and was a vital port from which the Royal Navy could disrupt French supply routes, intercept intelligence and maintain the operational fleet. The island was formally handed over to Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris of 1814. During the remainder of the nineteenth century it was ruled by a British Military Governor.

Admiral Sir Charles Thomas Scott and thence by descent to his son Sir David Scott in 1911.


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Edward Lear, Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Edward Lear, Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.
Signed with monogram l.l. Pencil and watercolour heightened with white. 17 by 37cm., 6¾ by 14½in.

After leaving Corfu by the spring of 1858, Lear visited Jerusalem. He arrived during Holy Week and immediately began exploring the countryside outside the city walls: ‘We crossed the Kidron & went up the Mount of Olives – every step bringing fresh beauty to the city uprising behind. At the top, by the Church of Ascension the view is wonderfully beautiful indeed’ (see Vivien Noakes, Edward Lear 1812-1888, 1985, p.149). He was, however, reluctant to stay for long because of the Easter crowds, and soon left for Petra. He returned to the city on 20 April, and began working on a painting of Jerusalem at sunset from the Mount of Olives which Lady Waldegrave had commissioned. He also painted an oil of an almost identical viewpoint, but at sunrise. Lear spent almost a fortnight studying the view from the Mount of Olives and making a number of drawings which he used as the basis for later watercolours such as the present work. From his vantage point could be seen ‘the site of the temple & the 2 domes – and it shows the ravine of the valley of Jahosaphat, over which the city looks: -and Absalom’s pillar – (if so be it is his pillar – ), the village of Silouam, part of Aceldama, & Gethsemane are all included in the landscape. And besides this the sun, at sunset, catches the sides of the larger Eastern buildings, while all the upper part of the city is in shadow; – added to all which there is an unlimited foreground of figs, olives, & pomegranates, not to speak of goats, sheep, & human beings’ (see Lady Waldegrave, 27.V.58, manuscript, Somerset Record Office, Taunton). In 1865 Lear painted one of his most accomplished landscapes of the Holy Land, an oil of Jerusalem (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) depicting a similar vista from the north-east side of the Mount of Olives, with shepherds and their flock in the foreground.

The first owner of this watercolour was Alfred Manners Drummond (1829-1921), son of Andrew Robert Drummond and brother of the banker Edgar Atheling Drummond (1825-1893). Edgar Drummond and Lear became friends after they met in Rome in the winter of 1858. Lear often mentioned Edgar’s younger brother Captain Alfred Manners Drummond, in his correspondence, and as he was an adventurous traveller and art collector, he also became one of Lear’s patrons. The picture remained in his collection until his death when it passed to his niece Dorothy, the first wife of Sir David Scott. For more information on Lear’s friendship with the Drummonds, see Maldwin Drummond’s book After You, My Lear – In the Wake of Edward Lear in Italy.

Given by the artist to Alfred Manners Drummond (1829-1921) and thence by descent to his niece Dorothy Scott (née Drummond), first wife of Sir David Scott.


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New Bibliography

Edward Lear, Amalfi (1839)

Dubois, Martin. “Edward Lear’s India and the Colonial Production of Nonsense.” Victorian Studies 61.1 (2018): 35-59.

Williams, James. “The Whole Situation.” Cambridge Quarterly 47.4 (2018). 387-394. (A review of Uglow’s Mr Lear).

Rizal, Sarif Syamsu. “Actantial Models in the owl and the Pussy-cat (A Narrative Scheme on Poem).” LITE: Jurnal Bahasa, Sastra, dan Budaya 15.1 (2019): 17-30.

Swaab, Peter. “Romantic Poetry and Victorian Nonsense Poetry: Some Directions of Travel.” Romanticism 25.1 (2019): 90-102.

Tillinghast, Richard. Edward Lear’s pilgrimage. New Criterion 37.6 (2019). 63-66. (A review of Uglow’s Mr Lear).

White, Donna R. “Nonsense Elements in Jane Austen’s Juvenilia.” Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal On-Line 39.1 (2018).

Edward Lear, La Cava (20 July 1838)


I have uploaded my contributions to last year’s book Edward Lear: Visioni inedite della Costa di Amalfi as well as my presentation in Amalfi last month at Academia.edu.

By the end of the year my article on “Edward Lear: A Life in Pictures” should appear in European Comic Art.

Edward Lear, Amalfi (8 June 1844)

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Meeting Edward Lear in Heaven

She wears a retro dress,
the waist nipped small
now that the tumors
don’t bulge, a skirt that swirls,
and dangling red earrings.

Time’s different there
and just this second
she’s spotted the tall man
excusing himself from Auden
and coming toward her, shy,
his hands outstretched.

Susan Blackwell Ramsay, “Meeting Edward Lear in Heaven,” in A Mind Like This, University of Nebraska Press, 2012, p. 83.

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Northrop Frye on Edward Lear’s Last Lines

July 23, 1932

I read in a book on the limerick the other day by some supercilious ass who
talked about Edward Lear as a pioneer but a childish and inane primitive because his first and last lines ended with the same word, venturing to “improve”
some by rewriting their final lines. This latter method is all right for sillycleverness or obscenity,—or anything which makes the limerick do slave-labor
for some non-literary purpose,—but the gentle echolalic of Lear, the last line as a
reflective comment, establishes the limerick as art, modern smartness ruining its
delicacy by rushing the meter and clinching and compressing the theme. Lear is
the unchallenged and supreme master of the limerick, and almost the only one
who brought it definitely within the pale of literature. This person is an ass, as I
said before.

Northrop Frye’s Uncollected Prose. ed. Robert D. Denham. University of Toronto Press (2015). 39.

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