Edward Lear, Sheik Abadeh on the Nile.
Signed with the monogram lower right; inscribed on a label on the stretcher: Edward Lear/San Remo/London Agents/Ford and Dickinson/90 Wardour Street/£25/£20.
Oil on canvas, 24 by 46.5cm., 9½ by 18¼in.
On his first trip up the Nile in 1854, Lear was moved to write to his sister Ann: ‘So far, it is a magnificent river, with endless villages – hundreds & hundreds on its banks, all fringed with palms, & reflected in the water; – the usual accompaniments of buffaloes, camels etc. abound, but the multitude of birds it is utterly impossible to describe, – geese, pelicans, plovers, eagles, hawks, cranes, herons, hoopoes, doves, pigeons, king fishers & many others. The most beautiful feature is the number of boats, which look like giant moths, – & sometimes there is a fleet of 20 or 30 in sight at once’ (4 January 1854; quoted in Vivien Noakes, Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer, London, 1968, p. 122).
Although Lear was fascinated by the beauty of the scenery and wildlife he saw whilst travelling up the Nile, it was the colours which astonished him most. When he made his second trip up the Nile thirteen years later, in January and February 1867, he realised that his watercolours seemed drained of colour and he wrote ‘In no place – it seems to me, can the variety & simplicity of colours be so well studied as in Egypt; in no place are the various beauties of shadow more observable, or more interminably numerous’ (Diary, 25th February 1857; quoted in Vivien Noakes, Edward Lear 1812-1888, London, 1985, p. 114). This time he travelled up the Nile as far south as the second cataract just beyond Wadi Halfa and after he returned home he used his sketches and colour notes as preparatory studies for a number of oils including the present work. Here, the glazes of pure paint capture the brilliance of the light which Lear had so carefully studied.
This painting was executed after 1871, when Lear settled in San Remo.
Frances Braham, Lady Waldegrave and her husband Chichester Fortescue, Lord Carlingford
Constance Braham, Lady Strachey (by descent from the above)
Lord O’Hagan M.E.P. (by descent from the above; sale: Sotheby’s, London, 3 November 1993, lot 22)
John, Lord D’Ayton (purchased at the above sale); thence by descent to the present owners.