An Edward Lear Unpublished Alphabet

The alphabet had already been sold at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2005; it was made by Edward Lear between 27 February and 1 March 1858 for Ida Nea Shakespear (also see 2 March).

ida-ab-1 ida-ab-2 ida-ab-3

Sotheby’s catalogue entry for the sale in London on 4 June 2015:


folio (323 x 196mm.), written on blue paper with watermarks “Joynson” or crowned oval with Poseidon at centre, each sheet backed with contemporary linen, additional sheets at the end to form an album, containing three ink-wash sketches on two leaves of a duck and her young, a rabbit, and a goat and her young, and with six hand-coloured oval portrait etchings of children, these last sheets watermarked “Smith & Meynier Fiume”, contemporary half roan, marbled boards, quarter red morocco folding box, some slight spotting and occasional discoloration to some drawings, edges of binding worn, spine rubbed and partially defective.


Ida Nea Shakespear, signature on flyleaf; by descent to Dr. I. F. Bohm, sale at Sotheby’s London, 20 April 1971, lot 543, where purchased by John Fleming (a copy of letter from Sotheby’s to Fleming discussing the provenance is loosely inserted); Norman and Cynthia Armour Collection, their sale, Christie’s New York, 27 April 2005, lot 94


Vivien Noakes, Edward Lear 1812–1888, Royal Academy of Arts, 1985 (cf. 81a, b, c, and d, partial alphabets from the collections at the Houghton Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum)


ONE OF LEAR’S TYPICALLY DELIGHTFUL ‘NONSENSE ALPHABETS’, a number of which the author/artist composed for children up until 1870. Lear drew this particular alphabet during his stay in Corfu and presented it to Ida Nea Shakespear (Ida Nea’s name appears in highly speculative nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century accounts of the playwright’s descendants: see, for instance, Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, Shakespeare’s Family: a Record of the Ancestors and Descendants of William Shakespeare, 1901). The drawings and verses are similar to others which have appeared at auction and which Lear published. See, for example Christie’s, 29 May 1986, lot 203, and another one in these rooms on 22 July 1980, lot 401. Two printed examples can be found in Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets.

Lear visited Corfu on several occasions, first in 1848, moving there from Italy when the political situation became difficult. He set out on his next trip in November 1854, accompanied by his friend Franklin Lushington, who had recently been appointed judge at the Supreme Court of Justice in the Ionian Islands. His third trip to Corfu was over the winter of 1857. Other trips there were made in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1877. According to Vivien Noakes, Lear made a number of these wonderful alphabets for children up to 1870 (Edward Lear 1812-1888, London, 1985, p. 173).
“Despite his loneliness…Lear was a sought-after and convivial companion, with a wide circle of acquaintance and many real friends who remained trusted and supportive…Children responded to his tall, shambling, bearded, bespectacled figure with warmth and happiness, and he treated them with humorous understanding and respect…” (Oxford DNB)

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