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Edward Lear (1812-1888)
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Edward Lear (1812-1888)

Argostóli and the Black Mountain, Cephalonia

Edward Lear (1812-1888)
Argostóli and the Black Mountain, Cephalonia
signed and dated 'E. L. 1853' (lower centre)
oil on canvas
7 x 13¼ in. (17.8 x 33.7 cm.)
Reverend Henry Press Wright.
Frederick. G. Wright, 5 February 1890.
Mary Kathleen Lillie Wright, from 1925.
Reverend Thomas Mitchell, M.R.B.S., until 1958, thence by descent.
Lady Strachey, The Letters of Edward Lear, 1907, p. 314, no. 94.
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Lot Essay

Lear made two visits to the Greek island of Cephalonia, one in 1848 and then again in 1863. As was his usual practice, material from his pencil sketches was later worked up into finished oils. Work from the second visit was incorporated in Views in the Seven Ionian Islands which was published and circulated by subscription on 1 December 1863. The present view is comparable to Plate XII in the series, and in the text accompanying the lithograph, Lear wrote:

Argostóli is the capital of Cephalonia, and is built on a rising ground at the head of the harbour on its western side. A long causeway divides the port from the shallow water at its southern end; and a fine carriage-road, made (as were those in other parts of the island) by Sir Charles Napier when resident of Cephalonia, winds to the great pine-forest at the top of the Black Mountain, represented in the drawing, immediately over the city. The point rising above the water, and sloping to the plain at the head of the port, is the site of the ancient city of Crani, which contains walls of extreme interest to the antiquarian. Beyond, standing on the limit of the horizon, are the hill and fort of San Giorgio, and the plain is the commencement of the fertile districts of Metax ta and Livadh. The buildings of Argost li [sic] are handsome, and the town, though not remarkable for liveliness, possesses many good streets and public edifices. The foreground is a path of gray rocks, where the lentisk grows and the broad-leaved squill abounds; the thence groves of olives cover the slopes to the city below.

In an earlier piece he had noted that:

The Black Mountain, anciently Mount AEnos, is the dominant feature of the island. It is 5400 feet above the sea, and crowned by a forest of Cephalonian pine, from which most glorious views of the islands and the mainland of Greece are obtained.

Views in the Seven Ionian Islands was evidently conceived with commercial considerations in mind, for these small pieces of paradise, as Lear thought of them, were shortly to be relinquished as a British protectorate and handed back to the government of Greece.

Lear was much travelled throughout the Mediterranean, but of all the landscapes he encountered he loved that of Greece the best. He chose to spend several winters in Corfu, and it was there that he met the Revd. Henry Press Wright, first owner of this picture, in whose family the painting has descended until the present day. Wright was born in India on 9 December 1816, son of Sophia and John Poulding Wright, Paymaster of the 59th Regiment. He was to act as Principal Chaplain of the British forces throughout the Crimea, personal Chaplain to H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge, Chaplain to Lord Raglan and his staff, Senior Chaplain to the Forces at Portsmouth and finally as First Archdeacon of British Columbia and Vancouver. He served as Chaplain to Corfu and Cephalonia from 1846, and returned to England in 1853 to protect the health of his daughter Mary, as three of his children had died whilst living in Greece. Wright's travels coincided with those of Lear's at this time, both being in England in 1853, and both returning to Corfu by 1855.

A comparable view of Argostóli, measuring 27 x 44 in., was executed in 1864 for Henry Austin Bruce, later first Baron Aberdare, whose wife's uncle, General Sir Charles Napier, was Governor of Cephalonia. The oil was sold at Christie's London on 24 October 1980, lot 26 (£50,000).

We are grateful to Vivien Noakes and the vendor of the present lot for their help in the preparation of this catalogue entry.


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