Edward Lear

Views in Rome and its Environs (London, 1841)

(Thomas Phillips, 1843)


Although Edward Lear (1812-88) is better known today for his Nonesense books and limericks, it was as an artist and painter that he made his living. A draughtsman in the gardens of the Zoological Society at the age of 19, in the following year he published Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae or Parrots (London, 1832), one of the earliest volumes of coloured plates of birds to be published in England on a large scale. From 1832 to 1836, while at the same time assisting John Gould with The Birds of Europe (5 vols, London, 1837), he worked for the 13th Earl of Derby at his seat Knowsley Hall in Lancashire, where he drew the plates for Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall (London, 1846). It was for the Earl's grandchildren that he wrote his Book of Nonesense, though that, too, was not published until 1846.

In 1836 Lear turned his back on ornithological illustration and became a talented painter of landscapes, working in oils, watercolour, pencil and watercolour, and pencil and bodywash. In 1837, with Derby's financial help and partly for the sake of his health, he moved to Rome, where he set up a studio and earned a living by teaching and by selling his studio drawings. His 'Roman years' were to last until 1848, and, although he returned to England from time to time, he never again resided permanently in the country of his birth. It was during one of his return visits, in 1841, that he publishedViews in Rome and its Environs Drawn from Nature on Stone, a series of 25 lithographs. Like The Family of the Psittacidae, it was published by subscription and Lear paid the production costs himself.

Lithograph 16, shown above, has the short title 'Rome from the Convent of S.S. Giovanni e Paulo (sic)'; the fuller title at the beginning of the work is 'Rome from the Gardens of the Convent of S.S. Giovani (sic) e Paolo, looking to the Coliseum, the Temple of Venus and Rome &c'. The Church of SS Giovanni e Paolo stands beside the ancient Clivus Scauri on the Caelian Hill. In the view, the Flavian Amphitheatre ('Colosseum') is seen prominently in the right foreground. One of the apses of the Temple of Venus and Rome is in the middle distance slightly to the left of centre, with the top of the Arch of Constantine in the foreground a little further to the left. The Arch of Titus and the slopes of the Palatine Hill are at the extreme left, with Campidoglio on the skyline behind them.

Lear, who over the following years travelled very widely throughout the Mediterranean, followed this work with Illustrated Excursions in Italy (London, 1846), three volumes of Journals of a Landscape Painter - in Albania &c. (London, 1852), in Southern Calabria (London, 1852) and in Corsica (London, 1870) - and Views in Seven Ionian Islands (London, 1863). From 1871 he made his home in San Remo, and died in his Villa Tennyson there in January 1888, being buried in the town's English cemetery.

See further: V. Noakes, The Painter Edward Lear (Newton Abbott. 1991).