Edward Lear, View of Abu Simbel (1867)


Edward Lear, View of Abu Simbel.
Signed with monogram and dated 1884 (lower right), inscribed ‘The Temples of Ipsambl. Feby 8. 1867′ (lower left), further inscribed ’14. Temples of Ipsambl.’ on the reverse. Watercolour. 9 x 17.5cm (3 9/16 x 6 7/8in).

Provenance: Private collection, UK.

Edward Lear visited southern Egypt in early 1867, executing the present lot on 8 February. In a letter to Lady Waldegrave, dated 9 March of the same year, he describes ‘Aboo Simbel which took my breath away'[1]. Painted from the opposite bank of the Nile, the present watercolour depicts both temples at Abu Simbel, built over 3,200 years ago by Ramesses II as monuments to himself and his queen, Nefertari. For centuries the temples were seemingly forgotten and covered with sand until their rediscovery by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (1784-1817) in 1813. It is said that ‘Abu Simbel’ was the name of the local boy who guided the first re-discoverers to the site, and later this was the name given to the complex.

When the construction of the Aswan Dam began in 1960, it became apparent that the ancient temples would soon be submerged and destroyed by the rising waters of the newly created Lake Nasser. An international fund-raising campaign by UNESCO led to their relocation to higher ground – a highly complex and costly process that was finally completed in 1968. Thus, the present lot shows the original location of the Abu Simbel temples.

[1] Vivien Noakes, Edward Lear: Selected Letters, London, 1988, pp. 208-209.


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