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Edward Lear the explorer

Portrait of Edward Lear

At the age of only 25, Lear was forced to give up his early career drawing intricate studies of ornithological species due to failing eyesight. Lear's health problems, including epilepsy and asthma, would prove to shape his entire life.

In a bid to improve his physical well-being he moved to Rome in 1837 and went on to base himself in southern Europe. Lear spent the next 50 years exploring the world, creating and selling his watercolours, drawings, paintings and journals wherever he went.

He travelled as far as Palestine, Egypt and India, studying each location's unique topography and characteristics before creating his sketches. These landscapes were well received in Britain and Lear managed to live on commissions and private patronage. He often survived on very little money and slept in tents during his travels.

His poor health meant he was often exhausted and he suffered from bouts of depression, but Lear did not let this hold him back. He constantly challenged himself, spurred on by a passionate interest in discovery and continuously sought out new and exciting scenery. He especially favoured working from high vistas, looking across open landscapes, and would often hike for hours in blistering heat to reach them.

Lear and William Holman Hunt

Lear's sketches and watercolours were popular during his life but he wanted very passionately to become more skilled in translating these into oil paintings. Embarrassed by his lack of formal artistic training, he briefly joined the Royal Academy in 1850, sitting the exams with men 15 years his junior.

By 1852 Lear had decided that he needed special tuition and turned to the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt for advice. Hunt explained to Lear that it was extremely difficult to paint detailed oil paintings from sketches and drawings. Instead he suggested that Lear could develop his travel sketches into more detailed scenes using the British countryside. Hunt took Lear to Fairlight on the Sussex coast to paint directly from nature. In return Lear taught Hunt to speak Italian.

Hunt drew a portrait of Lear in 1857 as part of a series depicting his artist friends. Including Lear in this series was a huge compliment from one of Britain's most renowned Pre-Raphaelite painters. Lear had huge respect for the artist, who he affectionately referred to as 'Pa', although Hunt was his junior.

Hunt presented the portrait to the Walker Art Gallery in 1907. Hunt said that the gift was to mark his gratitude to the city of Liverpool for its academy's support of his career.

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