Edward Lear, View of the Acropolis and the temple of Hephaistos, Athens.
Pen and brown ink and watercolor over pencil, heightened with white; inscribed lower right: Athens – from the West / June 5-6-7- 1848 / 5; further inscribed with extensive color notes. 319 by 495 mm; 12¾ by 19½ in.
R. Fowler and E. Well, Edward Lear’s Grecian Travels, on-line edition, unnumbered.
Lear made this on-the-spot drawing over three successive days (between 5 and 7 July 1848) shortly after arriving in Athens on his inaugural tour of Greece. The previous month, in Corfu, he had met Sir Stratford and Lady Canning who had asked him to accompany them to Constantinople, where Sir Stratford had recently been appointed British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
In Athens, the Cannings organized for Lear to stay at the British embassy and Lear also met up with his friend, Charles Church (1825-1915), with whom he explored the city and traveled more widely in northern Greece.
Understandably, Lear could not wait to begin exploring and he wrote to his sister Ann the following day: ‘I have risen as early as I could this morning, & surely never was anything so magnificent as Athens!…. The beauty of the temples I know well from endless drawings – but the immense sweep of plain with exquisitely formed mountains down to the sea – & the manner in which that high mass of rock – the Acropolis – stands above the modern town with its glistening white marble ruins against the deep blue sky is quite beyond expectations.’1
A comparable drawing by Lear, showing this scene from a slightly different viewpoint, was sold at Christie’s in 2008.2
1. V. Noakes, Edward Lear: Selected Letters, Oxford 1988, p. 76*
2. Sale, London, Christie’s, 4 June 2008, lot 30 ($77,790)