It is one of the greatest thrills to come across pictures thought to be ‘lost’. Most great pictures by the leading artists of the Victorian period are now in museum collections, or are well documented in established private collections, so it is always hugely exciting when an elusive painting surfaces.
This painting by Edward Lear emerged from a collection in Europe. After a gentle clean and the rehabilitation of its original frame, it became one of the sensational highlights of our June auction.
In the mid-19th century, travel to the Middle East was difficult and dangerous so this painting, executed in 1859, is a very rare view of Jerusalem from the period. Apart from Holman Hunt and Seddon, Lear is the only other Pre-Raphaelite artist of distinction to have recorded the light and life of the city that was essentially unchanged since biblical times.
One of the things that moves me most deeply when looking at works of this period is an artist’s idiosyncratic response to nature. In this picture of Lear’s, there is a wonderful sense of immediacy; the city is described with topographical accuracy and the study of the fig tree in the foreground is marvellous. Each leaf is lovingly described, as is the individual quality of Middle Eastern light.