No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.
Mrs A.H. Piper; Sotheby's, London, 24 November 1977, lot 149.
With The Fine Art Society, London, June 2000.
EDWARD LEAR: Poetical topographer from Constantinople to Switzerland by Dr. Vivien Noakes.
It is rare for so large, or so diverse, a private collection of Edward Lear's work to come onto the market. It ranges from slight drawings done as no more than memoranda sketches on the spot to carefully considered, detailed travel drawings overlaid with watercolour wash and penned out with ink, and from finished studio watercolours to an oil painting of Corfu (lot 61). It also contains a unique collection of sketches done by him in preparation for one of his illustrated books, Views in the Seven Ionian Islands (lots 52-60). Many of the works illustrate Italy and France, but there are also drawings of Switzerland and a fascinating watercolour of the cemetery above Ayoub's burial place looking out towards the Golden Horn in Constantinople (lot 51), an historic scene on which he later based an oil painting.
Lear's earliest training was as a natural history illustrator. In his volume Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or parrots, which appeared when he was just nineteen, he produced one of the finest works of ornithological illustration ever published. He also drew animals and reptiles, in particular for his patron, the 13th Earl of Derby, who employed him to illustrate the creatures in his extensive menagerie. It was a training which developed his powers of observation and gave him the strong sense of draughtsmanship which is characteristic of his considered landscape drawings. This can be seen most powerfully in the strong, sculptural quality of his drawing of the hills and mountains that feature in so many of these works. It also gave him a particular authority when he painted animals and birds in his work.
At the age of twenty-five he turned his back on this early success and became a landscape painter. Supported by Lord Derby, and Derby's cousin Robert Hornby, in the summer of 1837 he travelled across Europe to Rome. Travelling overland, and stopping to draw as he went, he reached Geneva in early September, then crossed the Alps and travelled down through Italy, reaching Rome in December.
For the next eleven years he made the city his base, with one extended stay in England in 1846 during which he published his famous Book of Nonsense. He would spend part of each summer exploring other parts of Italy; in 1838 he was in the Bay of Naples and Amalfi. During these Roman years he lived as part of an international group of artists, including the Danish painter Wilhelm Marstrand, whose pencil drawing of him is dated 1840 (fig. 1). He tells us that he attended the Academy there, but most of his tuition came from watching other painters at work, in particular Penry Williams (1798-1885).
To begin with, he drew mainly in pencil and chalk, often on half-tone paper; his earliest oil painting dates from 1840, a picture of St John Lateran done for his patron Robert Hornby. In the summer of 1847 he was in Sicily, and for the only time in his travels he worked on the spot in oils. He soon realised, though, that the speed with which he needed to work, given the distances he so often covered in any day, and the heaviness and awkwardness of the equipment he had to carry, meant that this way of working was impractical. Instead, he endeavoured to build all the information he would need into his drawings. This meant that he had to take only pads of paper and quantities of pencils, instead of a heavy easel, palette, boxes of oils and brushes. In order to take back with him to his studio the maximum amount of information, he wrote colour notes and reminders about form of the scene on which he was working; this led to his characteristic annotation, a method he had used during his ornithological days when he had followed Audubon's advice to 'Leave nothing to memory, but note all your observations in ink, and keep in mind that the more you write at the time, the more you will afterwards recollect.' It was not until 1848 that he finally settled on this method which he was to use for the rest of his life.
His friend Hubert Congreve has left us a description of his working methods. 'When we came to a good subject, Lear would sit down [he either used a three-legged stool or perched on a suitable rock, a frequently uncomfortable process], and taking his block from George [his man-servant], would lift his spectacles, and gaze for several minutes at the scene through a monocular glass he always carried; then, laying down the glass, and adjusting his spectacles, he would put on paper the view before us, mountain range, villages and foreground, with a rapidity and accuracy that inspired me with awestruck admiration. They were always done in pencil on the ground, and then inked in in sepia and brush washed in colour in the winter evening.'
Lear never sold his now highly sought-after travel watercolours. Instead, he regarded them as working drawings, the source of reference for his later works. Apart from private showings to small groups of friends and possible patrons, he did not exhibit them publicly, nor did he ever throw any of them away: they were done, often hastily and under difficult conditions, for his own reference. Some of them, sketchy and unresolved, represent no more than a few minutes' work, but although uncompleted they could revive in his memory some feature of the landscape through which he has passed on his travels, and to which he would later return in his studio.
From the time Lear left England in the summer of 1837 until he built himself his home in San Remo, he seldom spent more than a few months in one place - indeed, during his more extensive travels he would move on from day to day. The purpose of his travel was two-fold: discovery, 'simply the love of seeing new places', and the collecting of landscape drawings from which he could later work in his studio. The collection of drawings justified the expense of his extensive journeys, but more than most artists he delighted in travel for its own sake. The slow wandering through new lands offered him a physical and spiritual freedom which was essential to his well-being.
A problem which any traveller must face, but which for a landscape painter presented particular difficulties, was the weather. Rain was the most trying, but during his six weeks' walking tour along the Corniche (lots 68-71, 77), it was the cold that troubled him, especially when it made holding a pencil difficult. He was generally up before it was light. In countries where the midday heat was overpowering and the bright sunlight flattened the countryside, robbing it of its colour and its shadows, he enjoyed working in the softer, more interesting early light with its 'beautiful broad morning effect'. He had no difficulty in rising early, for it was the time of day he most enjoyed.
When he returned from his travels he would hold studio open days, when potential clients - or the idly curious - could come to see the work he had brought back with him and possibly commission a studio watercolour or oil based on some view they particularly admired.
There was often a surprisingly long process of gestation in his oil paintings - a picture of Turin, for example, based on the panorama of drawings here (lot 81), was begun in early 1863 and not completed until March 1864. This was because he worked on as many as five or six paintings at any one time, partly to give them time to dry out between the different stages of his work, and partly to give himself a change of scene. Some of his oils and studio watercolours are inscribed with two dates; the earlier of these is the date of the original drawing on which it is based, the later that of the finished picture.
He prided himself on being topographically accurate, but lest this should imply a lack of that imaginative input which lifts a landscape drawing from mere topography into a work of art, he thought of himself as a 'Poetical Topographer'. This was a necessary qualification at a time when topographical artists were considered to be mere hacks, especially since he once heard himself described as 'nothing but a d**d dirty landscape painter' - though he subsequently mocked himself by taking this soubriquet as his own - he called himself 'Edward Lear - Damned Dirty Landscape Painter'. Certainly, he was not only interested in the thing seen. His ability to empathise with the landscape, to draw out its essence, gives his work a quality that goes far beyond the topographical. Echoing Byron, he once wrote: 'I sometimes think that trees, rocks, clouds &c have more in common with me than I with mankind'.
Almost all his studio work is signed, either with his name or, from July 1859 onwards, with his characteristic monogram. These travel watercolours, however, never are. On many of them he inscribes the place and the date and the time of the drawing. Frequently there is a number which indicates its order in the sequence of drawings made during any tour.
Lear returned to England, hoping to settle, in 1849. In 1851 he met William Holman Hunt, one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who was to have an influence on his oil painting, in particular in his use of colour. But his health meant that he could not survive the cold and wet of English winters, and so he began to winter abroad, returning to England in the summer to show his new work and gather commissions on which to work during the winter months. His first semi-permanent wintering place was the Greek island of Corfu, then a British Protectorate, and a place whose then unspoiled beauty enchanted him. Before the islands were returned to Greek rule in 1864, he spent two months exploring the nearby islands in preparation for his book Views in the Seven Ionian Islands, in which he recommends them to his readers for 'the beauty and variety of their form and colour', their 'associations of poetical and historical antiquity', and 'the hearty welcome and joyous hospitality offered to travellers by the islanders'.
He now had to seek other places in which to spend the winter. Among these were the French and Italian Rivieras. At the end of 1864 he spent six weeks walking along the Corniche road, returning to his rooms in Nice with a collection of 144 drawings. During this walk he made his first visit to San Remo, where, in 1870, he built a house - his first settled home - and where he lived for the last eighteen years of his life. He would spend the hot summer months in the mountains behind the coast, at Certosa del Pesio or Monte Generoso.
After he settled in San Remo he relied increasingly on the exhibition of his work at the galleries of Foord and Dickinson in Wardour Street - their label can be seen on the back of the present painting of Corfu (lot 61). For many years they had prepared his frames and canvases and arranged for the transportation of his pictures to and from his wintering places abroad. Now they also began to exhibit his work on a regular basis.
The best of Lear's travel drawings - and it is worth remembering that many were unresolved and not intended for public view - show the joyful mastery which he achieved in the medium of flowing watercolour laid over splendidly controlled drawing. Many of them echo the Claudian convention of a bundle of interest on one or both sides of the foreground, framing the middle and far distance. Powerfully drawn, delicate but decisive, they demonstrate the delight he found in the beauty of the landscape to which he responded with empathetic interplay, setting down not only the physical characteristics but also the essence. The best of these works have a rare and very special quality of timelessness
We are grateful to Dr. Vivien Noakes for her help in preparing thie and the following catalogue entries.
A Brief Chronological Table
of Lear's Travels
compiled by Vivien Noakes
1833 July-August, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berne, Berlin.
1835 August, Ireland.
1836 August-October, Lake District
1837 Spring, second visit to the continent with Gould. June-July, Devon and Cornwall. July-December, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Rome.
1838 Rome. May-August, Bay of Naples.
1839 Rome. Summer, walking tour towards Florence, Civitella di Subiaco.
1840 Rome. Summer, Civitella di Subiaco.
1841 Rome. Spring, England. September, Scotland. December, Rome.
1842 Rome. April-May, Naples and Sicily.
1843 Rome. July-October, Abruzzi.
1844 Rome. October, Abruzzi.
1845 Rome. May, England.
1846 England. December, Rome.
1847 Rome. May-June, Sicily. May-October, Southern Calabria and the Kingdom of Naples.
1848 Rome. April-June, via Malta to Corfu, Ionian Islands. June-July, Greece: Athens, Marathon, Thermopylae, Thebes. August , Constantinople. September-December, tour of Greece and Albania. December, Malta.
1849 January-February, Egypt, Sinai. March, Malta. March-July, tour of southern Greece, Yannina, Vale of Tempe, Mount Olympus. July, England.
1850 London, Royal Academy Schools.
1851 London. July-August, Devon.
1852 London. July-December, Hastings.
1853 January-February, Hastings. February-September, London. September-October, Leicestershire. December, Egypt.
1854 January-March, Egypt. April, Malta, Marseilles, England. August-October, Switzerland.
1855 England. November, Corfu.
1856 Corfu. August-October, Greece, Mount Athos, Dardanelles, Troy.
1857 Corfu. January, Albania (briefly). April, Albania. May, via Venice to London. August-October, Ardee, Ireland. November, Corfu.
1858 Corfu. March, Alexandria, Jaffa, Jerusalem. April, Bethlehem, Hebron, Petra, Dead Sea. May, Beirut. June, Corfu. August, England. November, Rome.
1859 Rome. May, England. July-November, St Leonards. December, Rome.
1860 Rome. May, Bay of Spezia, England. September-December, Weybridge.
1861 January, Weybridge. January-May, London. May-August, Florence, Switzerland, England. November, Corfu.
1862 Corfu. May, via Malta to England. November, Corfu.
1863 Corfu. April-May, Ionian Islands. June, via Italy to England.
1864 Corfu. April-May, Athens, Crete. June, England. November, Nice. December, Corniche walk. Visits San Remo.
1865 Nice. April, England. November, Venice. December, Malta.
1866 Malta. April, via Corfu, Dalmatian coast, Trieste to England. December, Egypt.
1867 Egypt. April, Palestine. May, northern Italy. June, England. November, Cannes.
1868 Cannes. April-June, Corsica, England. December, Cannes.
1869 Cannes. June, Paris. July, London. December, Cannes.
1870 Cannes. February, San Remo (briefly). June, San Remo. Summer, Certosa del Pesio.
1871 Cannes. March, moves into Villa Emily, San Remo. July-August, Genoa, Rome, Frascati, Bologna, Padua.
1872 Villa Emily. June, England. September, San Remo. October, sets out to India but turns back at Suez.
1873 Villa Emily. October, to India. November, arrives Bombay.
1874 India. November, Ceylon. December, leaves for San Remo.
1875 Villa Emily. June, England. September, San Remo.
1876 Villa Emily.
1877 Villa Emily. February, Brindisi, Rome. May, England. September, San Remo, Corfu, San Remo.
1878 Villa Emily. July-August, Monte Generoso, Switzerland.
1879 Villa Emily. July-September, Monte Generoso
1880 Villa Emily. April, England. August, San Remo. September-October, Varese, Monte Generoso.
1881 Villa Emily. May, moves out of Villa Emily. June, moves into Villa Tennyson, San Remo. July-September, Monte Generoso.
1882 Villa Tennyson. July-September, Monte Generoso.
1883 Villa Tennyson. July-August, Monte Generoso. August-September, Perugia, Florence, Pisa, Spezia, Genoa.
1884 Villa Tennyson. July-August, Recoaro, Milan.
1885 Villa Tennyson. July-September, Brianza.
1886 Villa Tennyson. July-September, Brianza.
1887 Villa Tennyson. July-September, Andorno.