Edward Lear Mixes Painting and Nonsense

Matt Bevis has recently brought to my attention the above drawing by Edward Lear in which landscape and nonsense get in some way mixed. The picture is at Tate and the text reads:

I Galli
The Sirens isles. 12. June. 1844
1. [Referring to the swimming figure] A blind Doge — a bathing
2. [The mermaid at the top left] A Siren —- a singing to the ‘Arp.

The painting is numbered 42 and was drawin in S. Pietro in Crapolla (where now there is a place called “Il covo delle Sirene” – “The Mermaids’ den”), near Positano, presumably one of the supposed locations of Ulysses’s Sirens.

This reminded me of another watercolour containing nonsense elements that was part of Stephen Duckworth’s presentation I saw in 2012 and is mentioned in his article on Edward Lear’s Cretan Drawings (in New Griffon 12, 2011, website):


This drawing was made “outside Hania,” the detail above contains the beginning of a famous limerick: “The was a young person of Crete | Whose toilet was far from complete,” which I suppose refers to the “young person” marked with an “x.” The limerick had appeared in the 1861 edition of the Book of Nonsense (the picture is dated 1864, I think):

There was a Young Person of Crete,
Whose toilette was far from complete;
She dressed in a sack,
Spickle-speckled with black,
That ombliferous person of Crete.

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3 Responses to Edward Lear Mixes Painting and Nonsense

  1. The Lear outside Hania in Crete was drawn on 26 May, 1864 at about 4pm. Lear had been staying with the Hay family, the British consul at Halepa just north of Hania. He writes ‘Played and sang with the little girls …..till 3.30, when we went down to the town, the Hays leaving me at the Arab tents where I drew:’ (and this drawing was made). ‘afterwards I went into the hateful town and sketched on the port, and bought some toys for little Madeleine’. So he was in the mood for limericks.
    Stephen Duckworth

  2. Catherine says:

    I’m a bit confused about the date (1864) of the limerick picture. It is included into Harvard manuscript album of Lear’s original drawings for Book of nonsense, which dates 1861: http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/deepLink?_collection=oasis&uniqueId=hou02426

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