Edward Lear, Wadi Feiran (1849)

Edward Lear, Wady Feiran, Sinai Peninsula.
Ink, watercolour and gouache on blue/grey paper. Inscribed and dated by the artist ‘ Wady Feiran / 24 January 1849 / 8 A.M.’ and with artist’s note ‘Palms (?cut) off’, ‘Torrent bed’, ‘all in light’, ‘leaves brown / palm’, ‘dry palm leaves’. 7×11.5 inches.

Exhibited: Spink (No. K35871).

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Edward Lear, Hey, Diddle, Diddle (a New Version)

Edward Lear, “The little dog laughed to see such sport.”
Pen and brown ink on laid paper watermarked with Britannia. 16.2 by 20.3 cm., 6 1/4 by 8 in.

With Gooden and Fox, London (pre-1973);
Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999)

Lear is working on an illustration to the nursery rhyme `Hey Diddle Diddle’ in the
present drawing:
`Hey, diddle, diddle, The cat and the fiddle, The cow jumped over the moon; The
little dog laughed To see such sport…’ Lear illustrated this, as well as other well known traditional nursery rhymes, like ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ and ‘Goosy Goosy Gander’.

The present drawing is typical of the sort of drawing that Lear would produce to illustrate his own and other’s nursery rhymes and nonsense poems, characterised by a rapid pen line and simplified forms, often with exaggerated features. Lear was an accomplished poet who was passionate about the play of words and sounds and took great pleasure in inventing nonsense poems and limericks. It was apparently whilst staying with the 14th Earl of Derby at Knowsley between 1832 and 1837 that Lear began to make up nonsense rhymes and stories, accompanied by amusing cartoons and caricatures for the Earl’s grandchildren.

This drawing belonged to Yehudi Menuhin. His wife, Diana, was a fan of Edward Lear and the family chalet in Gstaad was named ‘Chankley Bore’ a reference to his poem, The Jumblies.

Guy Peppiatt Fine Art, British Drawings and Watercolours: 2019, auction catalogue.

Another version.

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Edward Lear, Calvi, Corsica

Edward Lear, Calvi Corsica.
8. 9.5 x 13.25 ins., (24 x 34 cms.). Watercolour. Signed with monograph.

The Saleroom.

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Edward Lear [?], Adjutant Bird

Edward Lear, Adjutant Bird .
Watercolour. Partial signature. Inscription and date 17.8.86 17 x 12.5cm.

[I think the date unlikely, and I’ve never seen a date written this way by Lear, and the handwriting is not Lear’s; maybe the date refers to the acquisition of the picture?]

The Saleroom.

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Presentazione del libro Edward Lear: Visioni inedite della Costa di Amalfi

A post in Italian, once in a while.

Se siete dalle parti di Amalfi non prdetevi la presentazione del libro sui dipinti di Edward Lear realizzati nella zona: organizzato dal Centro di Cultura e Storia Amalfintana, saranno presenti il prof. Giovanni Camelia, Federico Guida e il sottoscritto:

Presswo le Bibliioteca comunale di Amalfi, sopportico Sant’Andrea 3, mercoledì 24 aprile 2019, alle ore 17:00.

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Edward Lear and the Classics

It is well know that Edward Lear did not have a formal education, a fact that he apparently did not consider a limitation as he thought that it had left him with a curiosity to know new things that lacked in many people educated at the best universities. He certainly did not have a university-level education in the classical languages, but he very probably read a number of classical works in translation or, as a child, summaries of many. The theme has been extensively treated by Marian W. Makins in a recent essay, “Latin, Greek, and Other Classical ‘Nonsense’ in the Work of Edward Lear.” Classical Reception and Children’s Literature: Greece, Rome and Childhood Transformation. Eds. Hodkinson, Owen and Helen Lovatt. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2018. 203-25.

While discussing “The Tragical Life and Death of Caius Marius,” probably in large part based on Plutarch, Makins, p. 222 note 12, notices  that pictures 15 to 18 appear to be based on Oliver Goldsmith’s The Roman History, from the Foundation of the City of Rome to the Destruction of the Western Empire. Abridged for the Use of Schools, London: J. Williams, 1781, pp. 117-118. A book Lear had perhaps read as a young boy, or was reading with the child of a friend. After checking the text here is what I think she found corresponding to Goldsmith’s version:

Goldsmith writes, p. 117: “In this distress he was obliged to conceal himself in the marshes of Minturnum, where he spent the night up to his chin a quagmire.” The part which does not appear in Plutarch is “up to his chin.”

Goldsmith, p. 117: “being known and discovered by some of the inhabitants, he was conducted to a neighbouring town with an halter round his neck, without cloaths, and, covered with mud, was sent to prison,” and “The Governor of the place… soon after sent a Cimbrian slave to dispatch him; but the barbarian no sooner entered the dungeon for this purpose, but he stopt short intimidated by the dreadful visage and awful voice of the fallen general, …” The “halter” is not mentioned in Plutarch, nor is the man going to kill Marius defined as a “slave” and he offers to go, is not “sent.”

Goldsmith, p. 118: “”He afterwards landed in Africa, near Carthage, and went, in a melancholy manner, to place himself amongst the ruins of that desolated place”

Makins, however, misses, or chooses not to discuss another interesting classical reference by Lear in one of the two sequels to “The Owl and the Pussy-cat” he wrote. Published in the Complete Verse edited by Vivien Noakes, pp. 450-541, in “The Later History of the Owl and the Pussy-cat”, the cat dies after swallowing, “in a rage,” a document that “if found upon them the discovery would insuredly lead to acrostic results,” after her husband, the owl, refused to do so. Before falling off a tree and “perspiring,” the Pussy-cat manages to say: “My Pœtus! it is not painful.” This is an obvious reference to the story –  told by Pliny, Tacitus, Cassius Dio and Martial –  of Aulus Caecina Paetus, condemned to death for his participation in the revolt of Lucius Camillus Scribonianus; given the opportunity to kill himself, he wavered, but his wife Arria stabbed herself and then gave him the dagger saying: “Non dolet, Paete!” the exact words Lear reports in the letter and in the accompanying picuture.

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Edward Lear and Thomas Rowlandson

Edward Lear’s picture stories are apparently “hinnocent” throwaway pieces, produced on the spur of the moment to entertain his friends or their children. In previous posts I have shown the sources for some of the stories on Irish subjects (here, here and here), but even the most apparently occasional ones show Lear’s profound immersion in the visual and narrative culture of his youth.

While the Irish works were explicitly presented as derivative illustrations of existing poems or stories, Lear’s later strips seem to be pure and simple humorous narratives of events that occurred during his more or less adventurous journeys. This, according to a recent book by Daniele Barbieri (Letteratura a fumetti?, 2019) is an essential passage in the creation of modern graphic narrative: while ancient and medieval images told stories that were already know by their consumers or required explanations by people, such as preachers, who knew and interpreted the story for the illiterate “‘readers,” it is only with Hogarth and his many English followers that it became possible to tell, or rather draw a story independent of religious or historical sources that could explain it.

The examples below show how, even when telling an original, personal story, Lear could not avoid being strongly influenced by the long tradition of English caricature, and most of all by Thomas Rowlandson’s many series of prints devoted to horse riding, while at the same time using such well-known images to tell an original story.

Many of these examples are taken from Matthew Bevis’s lecture, Edward Lear’s Vision.







All images from Edward Lear’s picture story are ©Trustees of the British Museum.

The whole “Edward Lear Learns to Ride a Horse.”

See also.

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