Edward Lear, The Temple of Nike Apteros, Athens (1848)

Edward Lear, The Temple of Nike Apteros, Athens.
Inscribed and dated ‘Athens../ 5, 6 & 12 June / 1848/ “and it was windy weather”/ A. Tennyson’ (lower left), numbered ’13’ (lower right), and inscribed ‘earth – innumerable bits of marble/ & weedy grass’ (centre left) and extensively inscribed with colour notes throughout. Pencil, pen and brown ink and watercolour, heightened with bodycolour on duck-egg blue paper. 13¾ x 20 in. (34.9 x 50.8 cm.)

Charles Church, a gift from the artist, and by descent to the present owners.

Shefield, Graves Art Gallery, Edward Lear, Drawings from a Greek Tour, July 1964, no. 6.

Charles Church (1823-1915) frst met Lear in Rome in 1847, while he was travelling through Europe on his way to stay with his uncle Sir Richard Church (1784-1873), who had commanded the Greek forces in the War of Independence against Turkey. The two met up again in Athens in 1848, and made plans to travel around Greece together. Church had a great interest in the antique, and spoke modern Greek, which Lear had very little grasp of. The trip was the genesis of a lifelong friendship, and Church amassed a large collection of Lear’s work, both from this and later tours, with over one hundred 1848 sketches bequeathed to him by Lear at his death. Of the present group of seventeen drawings, ffteen date from the 1848 tour. Church later became Dean of Wells, and later in life wrote a manuscript which was never published, entitled WITH EDWARD LEAR IN GREECE: Being recollections of travel in Hellenic lands two generations ago, with extracts from his Journals and Letters, and illustrated by his sketches, recording their 1848 travels, and largely based on Lear’s now lost diary.

Church records that with the exception of the two Greek tours of 1848 and 1849, all Lear’s travels were undertaken alone, giving a sense of the importance of their relationship. Lear arrived in Athens on 2 June, and met Church the next day. Church records, ‘For the next ten days his journals describe him as giving himself up to the study of the scenes and art around,… “Doing nothing but draw, draw, draw”. Meanwhile I saw him most days on his sketching ground and was with him while he drew, and gradually our plans of travel grew.’ In those ten days, Lear made more than twenty sketches of the city, including four of this group (lots 229-232). From Athens they travelled to Chalcis, where their plans changed due to fghting in Thebes. A week’s tour of Euboea was added, and they arrived in Cumi on 20 June (lot 233). From there they went to Castella, and then arrived in Achmet Aga on 23 June (lot 234), the pass to which Lear described as ‘one of the most beautiful I ever saw — so stufed with vegetation. First, the running river, then Oleander endless; above, huge planes, hung with clematis or creepers, or oaks, or taller abeles. Above all this, infnite tall or branchy pine, some dead and glittering’. By 25 June, the two were in Kokkinomelia, where Lear noted, ‘Astonishing Swiss-like pinewoods! Magnifcent view of Gulf of Volo, which we stopped to draw.’ (lot 235). They travelled by boat to Lamia, where they found unrest but stayed anyway (lot 237), and spent a day visiting Patragik, where Lear depicted the soldiers gathered around ‘a sort of church’ (lot 236). From here, the route changed again, and the travellers set out for Thebes, with Lear drawing furiously on the way (lot 238). By the time they arrived in Thebes, Lear had a high fever, and the drawings made at Thebes and Plataea between 3 and 5 July (lots 238-241) were the last before they returned to Athens for him to recover.

The fnal two drawings (lots 242 and 243) date from September 1856, when Lear travelled from his home in Corfu to make a tour of the monasteries of Mount Athos. He travelled throughout the peninsular and succeeded in visiting all twenty principal monasteries and many of their dependencies. He produced a series of ffty drawings of the monasteries and landscapes, apparently intended to be published although this was never fulflled. On his return to Corfu he wrote at length to Church, telling him of his servant’s illness during the journey and recalling his own fever of 1848, as well as asking ‘Should you like any one of the Convents of Athos…or a general view of the mountain, or any other? or anything of Troy?’. Church noted on the foot of the letter that he had a drawing of the Monastery of St Paul, and these two were perhaps part of Lear’s later bequest.

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