When Lord Northbrook, one of Lear's staunchest friends and patrons, was appointed Viceroy of India early in 1872, he invited the artist to travel in the subcontinent. He also commissioned two paintings of the 'the Pirrybids', priced at £60 each, for which Lear could make
drawings on his outward journey through Egypt.
Lear had visited Cairo before, in 1849, 1853-4, 1858 and 1866-7. In mid October 1872 he was there for a few days, exploring possible views. Pestered by locals, by high winds which destroyed the reflections, and by clouds of midges, he did not find work on the preliminary drawings easy, but 'the effect of this causeway in the middle of wide waters is singular, - (great lines and circles of Pelicans, - & groups of Ivory Egrets) & were one sure of quiet, there is much poetry in the Scene, but it wants thought and arrangement'.
Feeling unwell and disorientated, Lear suddenly abandoned the Indian trip and returned to San Remo. There, in the early summer of 1873, he began work on what he called the Pelican Pyramids, and its partner, View of the Pyramids Roads, Ghizeh. On July 1st, he realized that the pelicans in the foreground were too large, and 'half the day went in painting out & scraping out all the birds'. By the middle of September both pictures were finished however, and the following month he left once more for India.
After his return from India Lear's thoughts turned once more to the birds of the Nile when he wrote his nonsense song, The Pelican Chorus.
We are grateful to Vivien Noakes for her help in preparing this catalogue note.