Edward Lear, Baalbek, Lebanon (1858 / 1862)

Edward Lear, Baalbek, Lebanon.
Watercolour over pencil heightened with touches of bodycolour; signed with monogram and dated twice, lower left: 1858 / 1862. 180 by 370 mm.

Mrs Ashton;
Miss Lupton, Leeds;
thence by family descent, until 1992;
with Agnew’s, London, until 1995;
by whom sold to John, Lord D’Ayton (1922-2003);
thence by descent to the present owners.

London, Sotheby’s, Edward Lear, An Exhibition of Works by Edward Lear from the D’Ayton International Collection, assembled by John D’Ayton, 2004, no. 15.

On his way back from Egypt in the Spring of 1858 Lear spent several days by the Dead Sea and in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem before catching the boat from Jaffa to Beirut. From there he made an expedition into Lebanon, stopping at Damascus and, on the 23rd May, the ruins of Baalbek. Lear was not in good spirits when he arrived as the site was crowded with English travellers. He also complained of ‘a ropedancer from Cairo – with consequent attendant crowds – and a village full of tiresome begging impical Heliopolitans’.1 As a result of these irritations he was not able to fully appreciate his surroundings and wrote: ‘I can by no means endorse the enthusiasm of travellers regarding those very grand ruins. Their immense size, their proportions, – the inimitable labour and exquisite workmanship of their sculptured details, none can fail to be struck with, nor to delight in contemplating. But all the florid ornaments of architecture cannot fill up the place of simplicity, nor to me is it possible to see hideous forms of Saracentic walls around and mixed with such remains as those of Baalbec without a feeling of confused dislike of the whole scene – so incomplete and so unimpressive’.2

1. Ed. Lady Strachey, Letters of Edward Lear…to Chichester Fortescue…and Frances, Countess Waldegrave, London 1907, p. 109.
2. Ed. Lady Strachey, Letters of Edward Lear…to Chichester Fortescue…and Frances, Countess Waldegrave, London 1907, p. 109.


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