EDWARD LEAR 1812 -
Lear: portrait by the Pre-
xxxxxThe superb quality of his bird paintings, taken direct from nature, gained him a wide reputation, and he eventually published three volumes of bird and animal drawings. But restless by nature and something of a loner, in 1837 Lear embarked upon a long period of travelling, his wanderings taking him not only to Europe, but also to the Middle East, India and Ceylon. It was during this nomadic life that he revealed his extraordinary talent as a landscape artist, both in watercolour and oils. He recorded some of the sights he saw in what he called his Illustrated Journals of a Landscape Painter, a series of seven publications which included his travels in Albania, Italy, Greece, Palestine and Turkey. He eventually settled down in San Remo on the Italian Riviera, and it was here that he spent the rest of his life, in company with his cat, the celebrated Foss.
xxxxxIllustrated below are three of his watercolours: View of Bethlehem, Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, and Thermopylae, Greece.
xxxxxThe Englishman John Gould (1804-
xxxxxThe English ornithologist John Gould (1804-
xxxxxThis work was so well received that, with the assistance of Edward Lear, he then set about illustrating all the birds of Europe. The result was Birds of Europe, a work of five volumes containing 449 plates, completed in 1837. In the meantime, along with his wife, he produced Monograph of the Toucans in 1834 and of the Trogons four years later. These works were so successful that in 1838 he and his wife were able to visit Australia, a country where little was known about bird and animal life. During their gruelling two-
xxxxxBut, by a strange quirk of fate, Lear’s brilliance as an artist was overshadowed by his equally outstanding ability to compose short pieces of witty light verse, and to illustrate them with some delightful pen-
xxxxxHis exquisite bird paintings have been favourably compared with those of the American artist and naturalist John Audubon, and, as an associate member of the Linnean Society, two parrots, a cockatoo and a macaw, bear his name. His influence as a humorist can be seen in the works of the American writer James Thurber, and in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, written for children by the English poet and playwright T.S. Eliot.
xxxxxIncidentally, in 1846, the same year that he published his first Book of Nonsense, he gave lessons in drawing and landscape painting to Queen Victoria. She employed him after seeing the quality of his work in his Illustrated Excursions in Italy, published in April of that year. ……
xxxxx…… The tabby cat called Foss joined the Lear household as a kitten in 1873 and, by way of the numerous cartoons drawn of him, became a well known figure in Lear’s works. He died in November 1887 and was buried in Lear’s garden in San Remo. Lear himself died just two months later. ……
xxxxx…… The origin of the limerick is not known for certain, but the name probably comes from the chorus of an old Irish marching song , “Will You Come Up to Limerick?”, to which the singer or others added impromptu lines. Lear maintained that he based his own verses on a nursery rhyme that began “There was an old man of Tobago”. Two of his many limericks are given below:
xxxxxIn total, Gould was responsible for more than 40 volumes and 3,000 coloured plates, featuring birds from all over the world and a selection of Australian mammals. In addition, he wrote some 300 scientific papers -
xxxxxIncidentally, Gould is sometimes known as England’s Audubon, but his epitaph, which he himself chose, reads “John Gould the Bird Man”.