April's Featured Work celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edward Lear, artist, writer and poet.
This month is the 200th anniversary of Edward Lear's birth on 12 (or possibly 13) May 1812. Lear was born in Upper Holloway, London, the son of stockbroker Jeremiah Lear and the 20th of 21 children. Today he is best known for writing nonsense verse and limericks, but he was also a topographical landscape painter, a musician, a travel writer, an ornithological and natural history draughtsman and an illustrator.
Largely self-taught as an artist, Lear began his artistic training by serving an unofficial apprenticeship with the ornithologist Prideaux Selby. He later lived in Italy from 1837 to 1848, where he mixed with the international community of artists in Rome and painted landscapes. Lear studied at the Royal Academy Schools for a few months from 1850 to 1851 and in the following year met pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt, whose paintings had a significant influence on his work. Between 1850 and1863, Lear exhibited eleven landscape paintings at the Royal Academy and five at the British Institution. However, from the early 1860s his reputation as a painter declined, perhaps partly a result of his mass-produced watercolour views.
Lear's 'View of Beirut' was made after his extensive tour of the Middle East in 1858, when he visited Egypt, Petra, Beirut and Damascus. After nearly two months in Palestine, he travelled by steamer from Jaffa in Israel, arriving in Beirut on 13 May 1858. In a letter to his sister, Ann, Lear gave his first impressions of the city:
'This place is quite different from anything in southern Palestine – & reminds me more of Naples by its numerous villas & gardens, & the civil & gay people. I was only looking about me yesterday, but today I shall make a drawing of Mt. Lebanon, & the Bay & town – which are really lovely as a whole ...'