Edward Lear, Civita Castellana (1843)

Edward Lear, Civita Castellana, 1843.
Watercolor and graphite on paper. Titled and dated (lower left). 8 ½ x 13 ½ inches.

Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner, 1983
Property from a Private Collection, Taos, New Mexico

Hindman, Chicago, through Liveauctioneers.

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Edward Lear, Temple of Agrigento

Edward Lear, Temple of Agrigento.
Signed and indistinctly dated ‘Edwd Lear. May 28, 184…’ (lower center); inscribed ‘Agrigento’ (lower right). Oil over pencil on paper, laid on canvas. 131⁄8 x 20 in. (33.3 x 50.8 cm.)

with Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, where acquired by the present owner in 2005.


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Harriott Lear’s Death Certificate

Jo Fitz-Henry kindly sent me Harriott Lear’s death registration from the Scotland’s People website. She died of “chronic bronchitis” at Cherry Bank, Perth, on 16 July 1859 and was buried in Wellshill Cemetery in Perth.

No members of the family were present as William Newsome, Ekeanor Lear’s husband and so Harriott’s brother-in-law, is mentione as “informant, if out of the House in which he Death occurred.” William, who wrote to Edward to inform him of the death, (and Eleanor?) travelled to Perth for the funeral. Lear was was in England at the time and he also went to the funeral, as he wrote to Chichester Fortescue from 15, Stratford Place on 18 July:

I think I told you that my sister Harriett was ill, & not likely ultimately to recover. The last accounts however, were rather improved: until on Saturday Evening a telegraphic message came to my sister in Surrey, to say she was worse: ― & on the following day a second message told that she had died in the course of the night.
In any case I should not have been able to go to Lady W[aldergrave]’s but as it is I am going off to-morrow morning, to get to her funeral on the following day: ― a long journey, near Aberdeen. [Letters, p. 144.]

Harriott (or Harriett as Edward seems to have preferred) died alone as Lear writes from St. Leonards-on-Sea on 28 July:

My sister’s death was so sudden at the last, that her nearer Scotch friends did not get to see her alive, poor thing. She however wrote a note to another of my sisters, only a few hours before her death, ― merely in these words. ― “Do not be grieved that I am alone: Christ is always with me:” & there is no doubt that she died in complete calm & happiness. What a dreary life hers has been! & yet that of thousands & thousands. “There’s something in the world amiss.”

Jo also sent me a link to photos of the grave of William Newsom and his wife Eleanor, née Lear, in West Norwood Cemetery and Crematorium, West Norwood, London Borough of Lambeth, Greater London:

For more on Edward Lear’s family: “Twenty of Twenty-one”: Edward Lear and His Siblings, part 1 & part 2.

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Edward Lear, Cefalu (1847)

Edward Lear, Cefalu.
Ink and pencil on buff paper. ‘Cefalu’ inscribed and dated 8th July 1847 and numbered 226, Spink & Son Ltd label verso. 8 x 12.75in.


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New Publications on Edward Lear (and more)

It’s been a long time since I updated the bibliographies, so here are quite a lot of items.

Essays on Edward Lear:

Walchester, Kathryn. “Non vedete. È una rivoluzione: Edward Lear Landscape Painter and Italy.” Journal of Tourism Consumption and Practice 1.1 (2009): 53-73.

Firtich, Nikolai. “The Artists of Nonsense: Nikolai Gogol and Edward Lear.” Transactions of the Russian-American Scholars in the U.S.A. 38 (2013): 157-91.

Antinucci, Raffaella. “Parodic Brachyology and Semantic Density in Edward Lear’s ‘Volcanic’ Italian Limericks.” Conversations: La Revue des Etudes Bachyologiques 8 (2019): 235-44.

Nagai, Kaori. “Animal Alphabets: Chesterton’s Dog, Browning’s Rats, Lear’s Blue Baboon.” Imperial Beast Fables: Animals, Cosmopolitanism, and the British Empire. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. 155-87.

Marques Granato, Fernanda, and Vera Bastazin. “On the Edge of Sense: Nonsense and Paradox in Edward Lear’s and Qorpo Santo’s Selected Works.” Ilha do Desterro A Journal of English Language, Literatures in English and Cultural Studies 74.1 (2021): 82-113. [link]

Colley, Ann C. “Animals and Nonsense: Edward Lear’s Menagerie.” The Palgrave Handbook of Animals and Literature. Eds. McHugh, Susan, Robert McKay and John Miller. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021. 333-346.

Nonsense in general:

Elliott, Richard. The Sound of Nonsense. New York – London: Bloomsbury, 2018.

Lecercle, Jean-Jacques. “Syntaxe et Nonsense.” Linx 10 (1984): 146-53.

Shires, Linda M. “Fantasy, Nonsense, Parody, and the Status of the Real: The Example of Carroll.” Victorian Poetry 26.3 (1988): 267-83.

Bardin, Gay. “The Poetics of Nullity: “Nonsense” Verses of William of Aquitaine, Jaufre Rudel, and Raimbaut D’Orange.” Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 34 (2003): 1-23.

Lushetich, Natasha. “‘Ludus Populi’: The Practice of Nonsense.” Theatre Journal 63.1 (2011): 23-41

Celotto, Vittorio. “Tra nonsense e folklore: Niccolò Povero e la medicina alla rovescia.” Recipe… Pratiche mediche, cosmetiche e culinarie attraverso i testi (secc. XIV-XVI). Eds. Treccani, E. and M. Zaccarello. Vrona: Cierre, 2012. 115-54.

Stanev, Hristomir A. “Ben Jonson’s Eloquent Nonsense: The Noisy Ordeals of Heard Meanings on the Jacobean.” Early Theatre: A Journal Associated with the Records of Early English Drama 17.2 (2014): 95-117.

Tomarken, Annette. “Borrowed Nonsense: The ‘Nugae venales’ and the Prologues of Bruscambille.” Humanistica Lovaniensia 64 (2015): 321-37.

Satpathy, Sumanyu. “The Illogic of Fantasy and Nonsense: The Indian Context.” Indian Literature 59.1 (2015): 165-78.

Giammei, Alessandro. “Nonsense-verse Made in Italy.” il verri 60 (2016): 1-13.

Fall, Rebecca L. “Popular Nonsense According to John Taylor and Ben Jonson.” SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 57.1 (2017): 87-110.

Chrzanowska-Kluczewska, Elżbieta. “Humorous Nonsense and Multimin British and American Children’s Poetry.” European Journal of Humour Research 3.3 (2017): 25-42

Peterman, Emily. “The Child’s Death as Punishment or Nonsense? Edward Gorey’s ‘The Gashlycrum Tinies’ (1963) and the Cautionary Verse Tradition.” Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature 56.4 (2018): 22-30.

Petermann, Emily. “Sounds Like Nonsense: Elements of Orality in American Nonsense Literature.” Cahier voor Literatuurwetenschap 10 (2018): 47-64.

Wong, Mou-Lan. “The Congruity of Incongruity: Victorian Intermedial Humour.” Humour in the Arts: New Perspectives. Eds. Westbrook, Vivienne and Shun-liang Chao. New York – Abingdon: Routledge, 2019. 167-93.

Semenenko, Aleksei. “Semiotics of Nonsense and Non-sense: A Lotmanian Perspective.” Bakhtiniana 14.4 (2019): 152-62.

Celotto, Vittorio. “Problemi filologici della poesia del nonsense. Il caso delle ‘Mattane’ di Niccolò Povero.” La critica del testo. Problemi di metodo ed esperienze di lavoro. Trent’anni dopo. Eds. Malato, E. and A. Mazzucchi. Roma: Salerno Editrice, 2019. 553-570.

Kharlamova, S. A. “Transformation of English Victorian Nonsense in the 20th Century: Lewis Carroll and John Lennon.” Philological Class 1 (2019): 165-69.

Lehman, Robert S. “Original Nonsense: James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, and Modernism’s Genius.” Modernism / modernity 27.2 (2020): 339-60.

The limerick:

Khairy, Nadya, Muhamed Said, and Amani Mehdi Hussein. “Thematization Peculiarities and Prosodic Feature of British Limericks.” Multicultural Education 6.5 (2020): 137-57.

Piat, Èmilie. “Rime vs rythme: traduire les limericks.” Déverbaliser – reverbaliser: la traduction comme acte de violence ou comme manipulation du sens? Eds. Vogeleer, Svetlana and Laurent Béghin. Bruxelles: Université Saint-Louis, 2020. 199-220.

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The Harbury Cutting, Warwickshire (Attrib. Edward Lear

Attributed to Edward Lear (1812-1888) British. “The Harbury Cutting, Warwickshire”, with a Steam Train and Figures in the Foreground, Pencil, Inscribed on mount, Mounted, Unframed, 5.75” x 9.5” (14.7 x 24.2cm).

This is, in my opinion, highly unlikely as a Lear picture, though I would very much like it to be.

Here is a photo that is very similar to the drawing. Several more phots of the famous cutting. And here is its history. Also, information on how Isambard Kingdom Brunel “dug” the cutting: Lear mentions Brunel in an entry in his diary for 9 September 1859, when the Harbury cutting had already been finished.

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Edward Lear, Mount Sinai (1853)

Edward Lear, Mount Sinai.
Inscribed, signed and dated MT. SINAI E. Lear 1853 lower right. Oil on canvas, circular. Unframed: 58.5cm., 23in. diameter. Framed: 69 by 69cm., 27¼ by 27¼in.

Bought from the artist by Thomas Gambier Parry.
Leger Galleries, London, 1970.
John Tillotson, by whom sold Christie’s, London, 21 June 1985, lot 17.
Sale: Sotheby’s, London, 30 March 1994, lot 179.
Purchased from the above by the present owner.

On the 6th January 1849 Lear arrived in Cairo to join his friend John Cross. Together they prepared for their planned itinerary through the Sinai, the Holy Land and Lebanon, buying ‘beds, carpets, pipes, eatables, etc.’, and for Lear ‘a capital hat lined with green and a double umbrella, and a green gauze veil, and an Arab cloak, and a thick Capote’ (letter to Ann Lear, 11th January 1849). On the 12th they left Cairo for Suez, travelling in style with a dragoman, Ibrahim, who was also a fine cook, and other servants. Lear was much amused by the camels which the party rode, ‘the most odious beasts… certainly uninteresting quadrupeds as to their social qualities’ (letter to Ann Lear, 16th January).

Their journey followed the Exodus, the route of the Israelites out of Egypt. Lear was aware of contemporary speculation regarding the exact path and the traditional identification of Mount Sinai as the spot where Moses received the Tablets, and discussed it in his letters, but his first sight of the mountain moved him greatly: ‘The 25th we crossed the high pass – El Hawy – & came to El Raha, the great plain which universal tradition has affixed as the site of the Israelite’s Camp, below the immense mountain – called Horeb or Sinai. The excessive & wonderful grandeur of the spot is not described… & the adaptation of the whole scene to that recorded in Scripture is equally astonishing… these mountains have from the earliest known authorities always been known as Sinai or Horeb. The convent – a Greek establishm[en]t was built in the 6th century’ (letter to Ann Lear, 1st February).

Lear stayed in the monastery of St Catherine, just visible in this oil on the right shoulder of the mountain, for three days of fine weather and made a number of drawings of the surroundings. Lady Strachey’s list of the principle works notes a view of Mount Sinai painted in 1849 (no. 79) for his travelling companion, the Reverend John Cross, and another in 1872 for C. Allanson Knight (no. 246). The present painting, bought by Thomas Gambier Parry, a friend and patron of Lear’s from the 1840s, seems Lear’s principle oil of the subject. A smaller variant of 1858 (private collection), also circular, was exhibited at the Royal Academy, Edward Lear 1812-88, 1985, no. 55.

Thomas Gambier Parry, J.P., D.L., (1816-1888) was an artist best remembered for his development of the Gambier Parry process of fresco painting which he used at Ely Cathedral, Gloucester Cathedral and the parish church at Highnam. He was also an avid art collector with a significant collection of early Italian paintings and objects now housed at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. One of his sons was Sir Hubert Parry, the composer.

The technical quality of Mount Sinai is superb. Lear had clearly taken great delight in conveying the imposing majesty of the sandstone mountain glowing in the desert heat but the boulders in the foreground are also painted with great care and sensitivity. There is the awesome vastness of the sand, the towering cliffs and massive solidity of rock contrasted with the men and animals dwarfed by their timeless surroundings. Tiny flicks of paint cleverly describe the forms of camels and riders receding into the distance amid the golden sea of sand. Even the monastery seems small in contrast to the natural rock around it. There is undoubtedly a spiritual message about Man’s place in the world and God’s place above it – the Christian God perhaps or Elagabal, the Syrian Sun-god (Lord of the Mountain). This is a serious and powerful painting but Lear was an artist and a poet whose sense of humour was famous and beneath the mount of Mount Sinai there is a sketch of a chicken – it is tempting to wonder whether he placed it there knowing that the buyer of his picture would be unaware of the bird’s presence.


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Edward Lear, Moment to Moment

Building on the success of the AHRC Knowing Edward Lear project, Edward Lear, Moment to Moment will be the first exhibition solely devoted to Lear’s sketches and landscape drawings from across the whole span of his career. It will take place in Autumn 2021 at the IKON Gallery in Birmingham, an educational charity that works to encourage public engagement with art. The initiative will include a substantial exhibition catalogue, symposia, school visits, lectures, and workshops, and will also involve collaborations with HMP Grendon, Birmingham LGBT, and migrant and refugee organisations. IKON offers free entry to all and receives around 200,000 visitors each year. The show will draw on collections in the US, the UK, and beyond, and will include many items that have never before been shown in public.

One of the central aims of Edward Lear, Moment to Moment will be to explore the artist’s fascination with the creative process, including the very process through which his work comes into being (experimental methods of composition, successive drafts, doodlings, and written marginalia in the drawings and paintings). The show will offer a study of the momentary—the thrilling, haunting evanescence of the moment as apprehended by Lear, and his commitment to the sketch itself as an unpredictable medium for essaying thought and feeling. As the exhibition’s title suggests, attention will also be paid to Lear’s interest in capturing sequences of moments through and across time; his desire, for example, to time-stamp several sketches in quick succession (Philae 8.45 am, 9.10am, 9.40 am). And, as he paints, Lear often has a sense of the present being shot through and saturated by other moments. To respond to a view or vista is, for him, to be reminded of another time; landscape becomes dreamscape as his pictorial imagination puts him in touch with strange feelings of nostalgia, déjà vu, and desire. Throughout Moment to Moment, as visitors walk and gaze from one image to the next, they will be invited to experience the artist’s way of being in the world, to take part in a Learical drama played out between the emergent and the ephemeral.

Thanks to Matt Bevis for letting me know.

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Edward Lear (attrib.), Palermo

Edward Lear, Palermo.
Pencil. 10x15cm.


The lot includes two more pictures, clearly not by Lear, one of them is nice:

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Edward Lear, The Pyramids Road (or, have you got a million?)

Edward Lear, The Pyramids Road, Gizeh.
Signed with monogram and dated EL.1873 lower left. Oil on canvas. Unframed: 53 by 104cm., 21 by 41in.

Commissioned by Thomas George Baring, 1st Earl Northbrook before 1872
The Fine Art Society, by whom sold to a private collector
Their sale, Sotheby’s, London, 8-9 June 1993, lot 4
Purchased from the above by the present owner (a Distinguished American Collector)

Lady Strachey (ed.), Letters of Edward Lear, 1907, p. 318, nos. 272 or 273.
Briony Llewellyn, entry in Edward Lear, 1812-88, catalogue for the exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, 1985, p. 154, illustrated p. 39.
Gerard-Georges Lemaire, Orientalism: The Orient in Western Art, Paris, 2000, p. 135, mentioned.
Nicholas Tromans (ed.), The Lure of the East catalogue for the exhibition at Yale Centre for British Art in New Haven, Tate Britain in London, Suna and Inan Kirac Foundation Prera Museum in Istanbul and Sharjah Art Museum, 2008-2009, illustrated p. 106, fig. 88.

London, The Fine Art Society, The Travels of Edward Lear, 1983, no. 80.
London, Royal Academy, The Orientalists – Delacroix to Matisse. European Painters in North Africa and the Near East, 1984, no. 85.
Washington, National Gallery of Art, The Orientalists – Delacroix to Matisse. The Allure of North Africa and the Near East, 1984, no. 63.l
London, Royal Academy, Edward Lear, 1812-88, 1985, no. 61.
Edinburgh, The Fine Art Society, 1988.
Edinburgh, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Visions of the Ottoman Empire, 1994.
Washington, National Gallery of Art, The Victorians: British Painting in the Reign of Queen Victoria, 1837-1901, 1997, no. 44.

‘It is a highly original variation of the much-painted theme of the Pyramids. By taking a viewpoint at the end of the long avenue of thickly-foliaged acacia trees, planted in 1868, he created a startling composition.’ (Briony Llewellyn, Edward Lear, 1812-88, 1985, p. 154)

In 1848 Lear wrote to his friend Chichester Fortescue; ‘I long to go to Egypt for the next winter… I am quite crazy about Memphis & On & Isis & crocodiles & opthalmia & nubians… Seriously – the contemplation of Egypt must fill the mind, the artistic mind I mean, with great food for the rumination of years.’ (Letter of 12 February 1848, quoted in Vivien Noakes, Edward Lear, Selected Letters, 1988, p. 68). In January of the following year he reached Cairo and embarked on his first voyage to a country that was second only to Greece in his affections. He was correct that his visits to Egypt ruminated in his imagination for many years and led to the painting of some of his most remarkable works, The Pyramids Road, Gizeh being the most impressive and significant.

The Pyramids Road, Gizeh was painted in 1873, more than two decades after Lear’s first visit to Egypt. Sometime before February 1872 Lear was commissioned by Thomas George Baring, to paint what the artist referred to as ‘2 pictures of the Pirrybids’ (letter to Fortesque, 28 February 1872, quoted in Noakes, p. 237). The pair comprise the present work and the astonishingly empty view, The Pyramids of Ghizeh (Christie’s, London, 25 November 1988, lot 105). Lear had been introduced to Baring in Rome in 1848 and found him ‘an extremely luminous & amiable brick’. Baring, later 1st Earl of Northbrook, became, with Lord Carlingford, Lady Waldegrave and others, part of Lear’s faithful aristocratic circle of friends, on whose loyal patronage he depended. In 1871 Baring took up the post of Governor General for India, and invited Lear to make his exhausting tour of that sub-continent between 1873 and 1875.

Lear had not intended to visit Egypt in 1872 but whilst on his way to visit Baring in India, he spent a few days in Cairo that October. He had aborted his journey to India at Suez after he was injured in a bad fall and suffering from exhaustion and jangled nerves – a situation made worse by a chaotic scene involving his luggage – he turned back to Alexandria. He ventured on to Cairo, a city he knew relatively well, where he could take respite and regain his composure. He was happy to be back in the country he had visited four times before and delighted to find fresh inpiration. He made a visit to see the Pyramids Road, a long avenue of Acacia trees planted four years earlier in the European-style of wide tree-lined avenues to celebrate Empress Eugenie’s visit for the opening of the Suez Canal. To say that he was impressed would be an understatement and he wrote; ‘Nothing in all life is so amazingly interesting as this new road & avenue – literally all the way to the Pyramids… the effect of this causeway in the middle of wide waters is singular… & were one sure of quiet, there is much poetry in the scene, but it wants thought and arrangement.’ (entry in Lear’s diary, 13th & 14th October 1872, quoted in the Edward Lear catalogue to the Royal Academy Exhibition, p. 154). The following day he returned to the road and made a sketch – probably, the one formerly in the collection of Viscount Downe (fig. 1, sold in these rooms, 8 June 1993, lot 5) which was clearly the basis for the present, large oil. A pencil drawing of the composition (Houghton Library, Harvard University) is dated 14 October, the same day he wrote in his diary; ‘I drew again at the head of the great acacia avenue – but flies made the work impossible.’ Despite the insects, the heat and the annoyances of local people wanting to see what he was doing, he persevered and created a remarkable painting and, as Briony Llewellyn has pointed out; ‘Nothing of Lear’s irascibility is reflected in his serene painting.’

The human activity on the road is keenly observed and sensitively depicted; each figure group is a vignette of society – the young boy with a donkey who has stopped to talk to an older traveller at the side of the road, the groups of men who are conversing and perhaps sharing news from afar or simply making business-deals, and the two women riding mules who are covered entirely but for their eyes. The camels are essential to Lear’s paintings of Egypt and he liked them very much as animals but here they have the purpose of presenting haulage and transport, the commerce of the Egyptians which had made them wealthy for thousands of years. These elements are not casually inserted into the scene, they each take their place in this depiction of many hours of observation of those who came and went along the great dusty road.

The Pyramids Road, Gizeh is a scene that we might now regard as nostalgic or historic but in 1873 it depicted a very modern scene of Egyptian life. Some of Lear’s contemporaries, including William Holman-Hunt, complained that Cairo was only interesting for its ancient ruins and that the modern city was of no interest to them. However, Lear was also fascinated and inspired by the modern changes and among the sketches he made on this 1873 trip was a view of the canal at Suez, only relatively recently completed (fig. 2). He made the scene magnificent in scale with a vast expance of water receding into the distance. This same sense of the grandeur of modern engineering can be found in his depiction of the Pyramids Road, another new feat of modern construction. To have built a wide elevated causeway through the floodplain impressed Lear as much as the engineering that built the pyramids thousands of years before. He perhaps saw the two constructions as a continuing theme of human endeavour through the ages. The ancient majesty of the pyramids in the background is a counterpoint to the modern building of the road leading past them. The sense of great distance is wonderfully depicted as the arching tunnel of trees recedes to the radiant glow of the horizon, reminiscent of John Martin’s Biblical extravaganzas depicting Jacob’s Ladder or Moses’ parting of the sea. Perhaps it also represents the journey from the golden glory of the past to the present day and beyond and we, as witnesses to the spectacle, stand firmly at the centre of it as Lear himself did over a century and a half ago.

[It is estimated 700,000 to 1,000,000 GBP, the highest for  a Lear painting, I think! I’lkl keep an eye on this sale.]


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