Edward Lear travelled to Italy in 1837, where he remained until the summer of 1841; he first visited Sicily in the following spring of 1842. Lear couldn’t stay away from Italy for long, and spent the winter of 1846 in Rome, before moving on to Naples in April 1847 where he caught the steamer to visit Sicily for the second time. Lear was enchanted with Palermo and remarked that ‘Palermo I think pleased me more than any other city I was ever in’ (M. Drummond, After You, Mr Lear – In the Wake of Edward Lear in Italy, Woodbridge, 2007 p. 176).
In the present lot, Lear depicts the bay of Palermo looking out onto Monte Pellegrino which is home to the sanctuary of Saint Rosalia, the patron saint of the city. Lear returned to this subject several times, and there are a few works painted from a similar view point. A composition depicting this view along with two figures in the foreground was sold at Sotheby’s, London, 10 November 1981, lot 10. A less finished oil sketch painted in situ in 1847, and on a smaller scale (8½ x 15¼ in.), was sold at Christie’s, New York, 25 January 2012, lot 59.
Lear painted this work for his great friend and patron, William Sandbach, and according to the artist’s diaries it was probably commissioned at the end of March 1859. There is record of Lear working on this painting throughout the beginning of 1860 when he was based in Rome; remarking in his diary on 19 January that he ‘worked pretty hard at the Sandbach Palermo’, and he mentions further progress made to the composition on 21 March. Lear returned to London in May 1860, and the work was finished by the summer, as he notes in an entry on 12 July that it had been collected.