Media File
Edward Lear
Date: British painter, printmaker, and author, 1812–1888
Biography: Edward Lear (1812–1888) was an English artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet. His principal areas of work as an artist were threefold: as a draughtsman employed to illustrate birds and animals; making colored drawings during his journeys, which he reworked later, sometimes as plates for his travel books; as a (minor) illustrator of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poems. As an author, he is known principally for his popular nonsense collections of poems, songs, short stories, botanical drawings, recipes, and alphabets.
Lear was born into a middle-class family at Holloway, North London, one of 21 of Ann Clark Skerrett and Jeremiah Lear, a stockbroker formerly working for the family sugar refining business. Owing to the family's limited finances, Lear and his elder sister Ann were required to leave the family home when he was aged four.
Lear suffered from lifelong health afflictions. From the age of six he suffered frequent grand mal epileptic seizures, and bronchitis, asthma, and during later life, partial blindness. Lear felt lifelong guilt and shame for his epileptic condition. When Lear was about seven years old he began to show signs of depression, possibly due to the instability of his childhood. He suffered from periods of severe melancholia which he referred to as "the Morbids."
Lear was drawing by the time he was aged 16 and soon developed into a serious "ornithological draughtsman" employed by the Zoological Society and then from 1832 to 1836 by the Earl of Derby, who kept a private menagerie at his estate, Knowsley Hall. He was the first major bird artist to draw from real live birds, instead of skins. Lear's first publication, published when he was 19 years old, was Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots in 1830. Unfortunately his eyesight deteriorated too much to work with such precision on the fine drawings and etchings of plates used in lithography, thus he turned to landscape painting and travel.
Among other travels, he visited Greece and Egypt during 1848–49, and toured India during 1873–75, including a brief detour to Ceylon. While travelling he produced large quantities of colored wash drawings in a distinctive style, which he converted later in his studio into oil and watercolor paintings, as well as prints for his books. Lear travelled widely throughout his life and eventually settled in San Remo, on his beloved Mediterranean coast, in the 1870s, at a villa he named "Villa Tennyson."
After a long decline in his health, Lear died at his villa in 1888 of heart disease, from which he had suffered since at least 1870. Lear is buried in the Cemetery Foce in San Remo.
In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks which went through three editions and helped popularize the form and the genre of literary nonsense. Many other works followed. Lear's nonsense books were quite popular during his lifetime. His nonsense works are distinguished by a facility of verbal invention and a poet's delight in the sounds of words, both real and imaginary.