Edward Lear, Girgente (1847)


Edward Lear, Girgente, Sicily. Inscribed and dated ‘Girgente June 1. 1847’ (lower left) and numbered ‘(82)’ (lower right) and further inscribed with notes. Pencil, pen and brown ink, blue and ochre wash, on buff paper, 24 7/8 x 19¾ in. (32.2 x 50.2 cm.).

Lear first visited Sicily in the spring of 1842 and in the early summer of 1847 he returned. He caught the steamer to Palermo, where he was met by John Proby, heir to the Earl of Carysfort, who wished to learn sketching from Lear. On 11 May they set out together, travelling all round the island, visiting Syracuse and Mount Etna. Of Girgenti Lear wrote to his sister Ann ‘Nothing on earth can be so beautiful as Girgenti with its 6 temples – I speak of the old town and the flowers and birds are beyond imagination lovely.’ (P. Levi, Edward Lear, A Biography, London, 1995, p. 94.). Another view of one of the Temples of Girgenti was drawn by Lear (Christies, London, 7 June 2001, lot 169) the day before the present work on 31st May 1847 and both employ similar ochre tones to capture the warmth of the stones. Lear also used Girgenti as an illustration to the last line of Alfred Tennyson’s poem You ask me, why, though ill at ease, written circa 1833.

Franklin Lushington (1823-1901) and Lear met on the voyage to Malta in the spring of 1849, and Lear wrote ‘My companion is Mr. F. Lushington a very amiable & talented man – to travel with who is a great advantage to me as well as a pleasure’ (Lear to his sister Anne, V. Noakes, Edward Lear, The Life of a Wanderer, London, 1985, p. 76.). They formed a close and life-long friendship and after Lear’s death in 1888 Lushington wrote that ‘he has always been the most charming & delightful of friends to me; & apart from all his various qualities of genius, I have never known a man who deserved more love for his goodness of heart & his determination to do right; & I don’t think any human being knew him better than I did. There never was a more generous or more unselfish soul’ (Lushington to Mrs. Charles Street, exhibition catalogue, V. Noakes ed.,Edward Lear 1812-1888, London, 1985, p. 199). Lushington was the executor of Lear’s estate, Lear left all his papers and paintings to him, and the proceeds from the sale of the Villa Tennyson and its contents to Franklin’s eldest daughter Louisa Gertrude.


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