Edward Lear was one of the leading English landscape artists of the 19th century, and among his most celebrated works are the drawings and watercolours that he executed during his wide travels around the Mediterranean. These journeys included two trips to Egypt, during which he captured his impressions in carefully annotated drawings and watercolours, which he often worked up on a larger scale on canvas upon his return to England. Indeed the present lot, which was executed in 1854 during Lear's first trip down the Nile, is one of a series of pencil drawings (fig. 1) and watercolours that he executed on the spot at Kasr-el-Saad, which he later used as the basis for at least four oil paintings, including one sold in these rooms on 26 June 2007 for a record GBP 938,400.
Lear took particular delight in depicting landscapes that no other artists had ever previously recorded, and the present watercolour shows the dramatic cliffs and water of 'one of the most beautiful places I ever saw - Casr el Saadd (sic). I am quite bewildered when I think how little people talk of the scenery of the Nile - because they pass it while sleeping I believe. Imagine immense cliffs, quite perpendicular, about as high as St Paul's & of yellow stone - rising from the most exquisite meadows all along the river! While below them are villages almost hidden in palms...it is one of the most beautiful spots in the world!' (Edward Lear, in a letter to his sister Ann, 18 January 1854).