Edward Lear, The River Nile at Abou Seir, the Second Cataract (1867)

Edward Lear, The River Nile at Abou Seir, the Second Cataract, Egypt.
Pen and brown and grey ink with watercolour over pencil, heightened with white on buff-coloured paper; inscribed in ink and in pencil, lower left: Abou Seir / 2d Cataract / 9-9.30. AM. / Feby 4.1867, numbered, lower right: (341), and further inscribed with colour notes. 280 by 535 mm.

With Spink’s, London;
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. 21.

In 1854 Lear had travelled up the Nile as far as Philae, but in 1867 he decided to explore further south and to make drawings of the Upper Nile and Nubia, as far as the Second Cataract. All the way up the Nile he was busy sketching, making new drawings of Philae and Denderah and many other places he had visited thirteen years earlier, but it was the new country above the First Cataract which was of greatest interest. He informed Lady Waldegrave by letter that the Nubian desert was ‘a sad, stern, uncompromising landscape, dark ashy purple lines of hills, piles of granite rocks, fringes of palm, and ever and anon astonishing ruins of the oldest temples’.1 The great expanses of sand and long lines of hills were a complete contrast to the lush green landscape of the First Cataract, but Lear was amazed by the harsh beauty of the landscape and delighted by the magnificence of the temples, particularly Abou Simbel which he reached on 8th February. By early March, Lear had returned to Cairo.

1. V. Noakes, Edward Lear Selected Letters, Oxford 1988, p. 216.


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