Lear, Edward

I was born in 1812 (12 May) and I began to draw to make a living around 1827. They were merely strange sketches I sold to establishments for varied prices, between nine pence and four shillings: colouring sheets, lampshades, fans; meanwhile, I also made drawings of illnesses for hospitals and certain doctors. In 1831, through Mrs. Wentworth, I was hired by the Zoological Society and in 1832 I published The Family of the P., which, as far as I know, was the first complete volume of large-scale drawings of birds in full colour to have been published in England, unless the one by Audubon had been printed earlier. The book Indian Pheasants by J. Gould was started at the same time, and shortly after he hired me to draw many of his European birds, while I helped Mrs. Gould with her close-up drawings, as anyone who takes a look at Gould’s European and toucan birds will appreciate. From 1832 to 1836, when my health deteriorated significantly, I drew regularly for Earl of Derby; and a collection of my drawings was published by Dr. Gray from the British Museum, a book that is now untraceable. I also lithographed many individual motifs, and a large collection of Testudines for Mr. Bell (now Professor); I made drawings for Bell’s book Mammalia, and for two or more volumes of the Naturalist’s Library for the publisher Sir W. Jardine: the one dedicated to parrots and, I believe, also the ones about monkeys and some felines. In 1835 or 1836, while in Ireland and The Lakes, I learned much about the landscape; in 1837 when it was found that my health was being increasingly affected by the climate, I travelled abroad, wintering in Rome until 1841, year in which I returned to England and published a volume of lithographs titled Rome and its Environs. Back in Rome, I visited Sicily and most of the southern Italy, and continued drawing with sanguine, although in 1840 I had painted my first two oil paintings. In addition, I taught classes in Rome and was able to earn a comfortable living. In 1845 I returned to England once again, and in 1846 I gave some lessons to Queen Victoria, due to Her Majesty seeing one of my works published that year on Abruzzi and another on the Roman states. In 1847, I travelled through all of southern Calabria and visited Sicily again. In 1846, I finally left Rome. I then travelled to Malta, Greece, Constantinople, and the Ionian Islands; to Mount Sinai and Greece for the second time in 1849, returning to England that year. I spent the entirety of 1850 improving my skills in drawing the human figure, and continued painting with oils until 1853, publishing in the interval between 1849 and 1852 two volumes named Journals of a Landscape Painter about Albania and Calabria. The first edition of Book of Nonsense was published in 1846, lithographed by means of tracing paper. In 1854 I visited Egypt and Switzerland, and Corfu in 1855, where I remained during the winters of 1856-57-58 visiting Mount Athos and then Jerusalem and Syria. In the autumn of 1858 I went back to England, and spent the winters of 1858 and 1860 in Rome. In 1861 I stayed the whole winter in England and painted the Cedars of Lebanon and Masada, parting again to Italy after the death of my sister in March 1861. I spent the following two winters, those of 1862 and 1863, in Corfu, and at the end of that last year I published Views in the Ionian Islands. A considerably expanded edition of Book of Nonsense appeared in 1862, and now counts 16,000 copies.

What a bore!

Edward Lear

Self-portrait of the author