'Edward Lear: The landscape Artist'
Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Grasmere 3 July-4 October 2009.
If Edward Lear's name is associated with any landscape, it is with views of the near East. The exhibition recently held in Grasmere demonstrated the simplicity of this categorisation and looked at Lear's earliest work made in the mid-1830s during a brief visit to Ireland and a rather longer and more productive tour of the Lake District. The exhibition curator, Charles Nugent, has skilfully reconstructed the tours by using Lear's correspondence and the inscriptions on the drawings themselves.
Lear was the twenty-first of twenty-two children and after his father's retirement from stock-broking the children flew the nest. His elder sister, Sarah, married Charles Street, a banker and during his frequent visits Lear took the opportunity to draw his sister's house near Arundel and Parham Park nearby They were drawn for amusement and Lear quickly turned his talent to the more lucrative activity of ornithology and made forty-two lithographic plates to illustrate a study of parrots (1830-32). He learnt much from Charles Hullmandel, the pioneering lithographer, and, using the manual that Hullmandel had produced in 1824, he became very proficient. Hullmandel worked closely with the watercolourist and lithographer Charles Duffield Harding whose tree forms were also a considerable influence on the younger artist's work.
Lear's interest in zoological illustration brought him into contact with Lord Stanley, the heir to the Earldom of Derby and President of the Zoological Society. Lear visited his private menagerie at the family estate of Knowsley near Liverpool and quickly formed lasting friendships with members of their extended family, among them the Hornbys (the Revd Geoffrey Hornby had married Lucy, the sister of the 12th Earl). These associations provided a framework for his future as an artist. The half-dozen letters, now in the Frederick Warne Archive that have only recently come to light, show Lear to have been an upbeat, gracious, enthusiastic and open character who enjoyed new experiences and the excitement of new challenges. Although he was employed to draw Lord Stanley's animals at Knowsley, he was welcomed at the house as an equal.
One of the Warne letters mentions a visit to Angelsey and immediately afterwards, in August 1835, Lear travelled with members of the Stanley family to the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement...