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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Offering of the Day: An Exceptional Watercolor of Monaco by the Famed British Writer and Painter Edward Lear

Edward Lear (1812-1888)
View of Monaco
Pen and ink and watercolor with gum arabic, heightened with touches of bodycolor
Paper size: 6 1/8" x 9 1/8"; framed size: 14 3/4" x 18"
Signed in monogram and inscribed l.r.: Monaco/ EL
Ca. 1864
$150,000

As he wrote to his friend Fortescue on November 13th, Lear 'had no idea the Cornice was so magnificent in scenery; Eza [Eze] and Monaco are wondrously picturesque, and Mentone very pretty' (Lady Strachey, ed., Later Letters of Edward Lear, 1911, p. 51).

The above watercolor is one of Lear's more atmospheric works. Executed within a few years of Monaco's independence from France in 1861 this image is probably one of the earliest views of the city as an independent nation.

Edward Lear is best remembered for his books of nonsense and for popularizing the limerick, but he was also a prolific watercolorist, who as a young man earned his livelihood and achieved recognition as an illustrator of birds and animals, and who later pictorially documented his many journeys throughout the Mediterranean and India.

Born in the north London suburb of Holloway on 12 May 1812, Lear was the youngest of twenty-one children born to Jeremiah and Ann Lear.  His childhood was one of outward prosperity but in 1825, his father, a stockbroker, was ruined by a financial crisis brought on by unfortunate speculation.  At the age of fifteen the young and somewhat sickly Edward had to start earning his own living.  Initially, he tinted drawings of birds for shops and printsellers, also undertaking work for various hospitals and physicians.  This training suited him well and by the age of eighteen he was already taking pupils of his own.

In 1830, Lear received permission to work as a draughtsman at the Zoological Society, and the following year moved with his sister, Ann, to lodgings in Albany Street, Regent's Park, in order to be close to his work.  His first task was to make a record of the different members of the parrot family and he was encouraged in this task by N. A. Vigors, John Gould and Lord Stanley. Illustrations of the family Psittacidae appeared in parts between 1830 and 1832, when Lear abandoned it; however, it represents the first illustrated work of ornithology to be issued on such a scale in England, and immediately attracted much comment and was compared favorably to John James Audubon's Birds of America.  The day after the first part of Illustrations of the family Psittacidae was published Lear was elected an associate of the Linnean Society.

During the years immediately following the publication, the collaboration that was probably to have the most lasting effect was with John Gould, who not only bought the remaining stock of Illustrations of the family Psittacidae but emulated the format in his own publications.  Lear and Gould traveled together to the continent, visiting Holland, Switzerland, and Germany, while Lear contributed plates to Gould's Birds of Europe and Monograph of the Toucans and helped with the Monograph of the Trogonidae, but by this stage he did not feel able to produce finished plates.

After 1837, for reasons of health, Lear lived mainly in Italy and Corfu.  On 31 October 1836 he wrote to Gould 'my eyes are so sadly worse, that no bird under an ostrich shall I soon be able to do'.  When he felt himself no longer able to cope with the detailed work of bird illustration, he turned his talents to landscape and, in addition to producing a large quantity of drawings and watercolors, published several books of travel and topography covering Italy, Greece and Albania.  He also produced a small number of highly wrought oil paintings, in which he treated landscape with the intensity of the Pre-Raphaelites, in emulation of his mentor William Holman Hunt (1827-1920). Lear died in San Remo in 1888.  

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