Edward Lear

English artist, illustrator, author, and poet (1812 - 1888)

Lear was the son of the stockbroker and elected freeman of the City of London Jeremiah Lear (1757 – 1833) and Ann Lear (1769 – 1844). He received little formal education and was mostly raised and home schooled by his eldest sister Ann (born around 1791, died date unknown). She taught him how to draw and paint. From a young age he suffered from short sight, asthma, bronchitis and epilepsy.

Lear began to earn his living as an artist from the age of 15 through teaching, decorating screens and fans, and making anatomy drawings. By 1829 he had become an ornithological draughtsman and was serving an unofficial apprenticeship to naturalist Prideaux Selby (1788 - 1867). Lear made drawings of parrots at the Gardens of the Zoological Society of London between 1830 and 1832 and produced a publication called 'Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots' that was issued in 12 parts.

During the next few years he produced illustrations for a range of naturalists' and ornithologists' publications. They praised him for his precise anatomical accuracy. Politician and naturalist Edward Smith Stanley (1775 – 1851), the Thirteenth Earl of Derby, particularly admired Lear's work. He had built a menagerie at his home in Knowsley, Liverpool and was keen to have his collection recorded. He employed Lear to make drawings and watercolours after his collection between 1831 and 1837. A selection were published in the 'Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall' in 1846. Lear had begun to suffer greatly with his eyesight during this time and he had begun to turn increasingly to landscape drawing in Ireland and the Lake District as an output for his creativity. These topographical views did not require the close attention to detail required for his scientific illustrations.

Lear lived in Rome in Italy after 1837 and spent his days drawing in the city or on the Campagna. He also visited Naples and Florence. He returned to England briefly in 1841 to publish his 'Views in Rome and its Environs'. He soon returned to Italy to work on material for his next publication, 'Illustrated Excursions in Italy', published in 1846.

Lear was not only interested in drawing; he was also a celebrated writer, gifted in the art of verse. He kept journals of his travels and annotated many of his works. He was perhaps best known for his literary nonsense, in poetry and limericks, He published 'A Book of Nonsense' in 1846. It was considered at the time to be revolutionary and liberating and the book has still never been out of print.

Lear began to paint increasingly in oils after 1846. His watercolours and drawings were only made as preliminary sketches. Over the next few years he continued to travel, visiting Malta, Albania, Greece, Egypt, and Sinai. Lear felt he lacked a formal artistic education though and at the age of 37 decided to enroll in the schools of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. He was accepted but did not finish his training.

Lear’s oil paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institution during the 1850s . He continued to travel extensively too, producing paintings for patrons and further publications. His last book of nonsense, 'Laughable Lyrics', was published In 1877. Lear was a successful artist during his lifetime but his achievements as a painter have been obscured for many years by his reputation as a nonsense writer.
  • Gender
  • Relationship
    , Artist/maker
  • Nationality
    British: English
  • Born
  • Place of birth
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: London
  • Died
  • Place of death
    Europe: Southern Europe: Italy
  • Cause of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
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