Edward Lear, Mtahleb, Malta (1866)


Edward Lear, Mtahleb, Malta.
Inscribed ‘Emtachleb, Malta’, dated ’11 am Feby 3 1866′ and numbered 52, further inscribed with extensive colour notes. Watercolour heightened with bodycolour. 36.2 53.3 cm. (14 1/4 x 21 in.)

William Rothenstein.
Sir John Rothenstein.

Lear’s final sojourn to Malta lasted from December 1865 to March 1866, he worked from a house at 9 Strada Torri, Sliema with his servant Giorgio Cocali “my good servant George” as his principle companion.
After a beautiful sunrise on the 3rd February 1866 the day clouded over, with rain, and Lear was doubtful about whether he would be able to do any drawing. However, quite early it began to clear, and he and Giorgio set out in a carriage for Civita Vecchia.
“All the lower part of the island is in gray mist & very beautiful” he wrote. When they reached Civita Vecchi, he persuaded what he called “the woolly pated driver” to go on to Mtahleb. “…a small boy joins to show the way, wh. indeed was difficult. By 9.45, we reach the place – a deep sunk dell – or sort of I. of Wight undercliff”. Having paid off the driver, who responded with “Plenty thank you, Sir”, he settled down to draw Mtahleb which he described as “a delight – & not unlike some spots of Cerigo – also Syracuse: – a great sunken orange garden – between rocks – & with a violet sea beyond. Drew 3 times (incessantly barking dogs did not improve the hour,) till 12.30.” From the timing, it would seem that this drawing is probably the second of these.
The hamlet of Mtahleb is located in the south-west of Malta and near to the Dingli cliffs, it clings to the edge of the Mtahleb gorge and is overlooked by a chapel dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady. The chapel is one of a number of buildings known as juspatronati chapels; they were built by the Knights and by noblemen on their estates as their own private places of worship. The Mtahleb Chapel was constructed in 1656 by the D’Amico Inguanez family.
Our thanks to Vivien Noakes and to Ian Bouskill for their assistance in the compilation of the above catalogue entry.


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Edward Lear, Kangchenjunga from Darjeeling (1877)


Edward Lear, Kangchenjunga from Darjeeling.
Signed with monogram and dated 1877 l.r. Ooil on canvas. 117 x 178 cm. (46 x 70 in.)

Henry Austin Bruce, 1st Baron Aberdare, (1815-1895);
Donated by Lord Aberdare to the Mountain Ash Urban District Council (currently, Cynon Valley Borough Council).

Exhibited: London, The Royal Academy of Arts, ‘Edward Lear:1812-1888‘, 1985, no.63.

In October 1873, Edward Lear left his home in San Remo on the Italian Riviera and embarked on a 15 month tour of India and Ceylon. The previous year his old friend, Thomas Baring, the first Earl of Northbrook, had been appointed Viceroy of India and had invited Lear to visit the subcontinent as his guest.
His decision about whether or not to go depended on finding patrons who would be interested in his Indian paintings. One of those who commisioned him was the statesman Henry Bruce, who became Lord Aberdare in 1873. He left the choice of subject matter to Lear, who wrote to him:
‘Thank you for your good wishes, India wise: and particularly also for your commission- which I will take the greatest pains with. But will you not tell me if you have any special wish for one view more than another? Shall I paint Jingerry Wangerry Bang, or Wizzibizzigollyworryboo?’
Despite these enticing-sounding alternatives, Lear eventually chose Kangchenjunga, one of the highest Himalayan peaks. Lear painted three large oils of this spectacular view: for Louisa, Lady Ashburton (Private Collection, U.S.A.), for Lord Northbrook (Private Collection, U.S.A.) and the present work.
Lear was born in 1812, the 20th of 21 children. His father had been Master of the Fruiterers’ Company and was a Freeman of the City of London, but a few years after Edward’s birth he suffered a sudden financial collapse. The family broke up and Edward was given into the care of his oldest sister, Ann, who was 21 years his senior. It was the beginning of a lifetime of emotional and financial insecurity.
At the age of 15, Lear began to earn his living by decorating screens and fans and by selling drawings to travellers in inn yards. By the time he was 18, Lear was working on what was to become one of the finest works of English ornithological draughtsmanship, ‘Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots’. By the mid-1830s, he was achieving considerable success as a natural history painter.
In 1837, Lear moved to Rome, where he stayed for eleven years. In 1846, he published both his renowned ‘A Book of Nonsense’ and two volumes of ‘Illustrated Excursions in Italy’, which so impressed Queen Victoria that she invited him to give her a series of 12 lessons. In 1848, Lear left Rome to embark on a twelve month tour of the Mediterranean. He visited, not only established sites, but also wild and remote parts of Italy, Greece, Albania and Palestine. He made hundreds of drawings from which he would work when he returned to London.
Throughout the 1850s, as Lear painted large, dramatic paintings of the places he had visited, his reputation grew steadily. In 1860, he confirmed his success by working on a nine-feet long oil, ‘The Cedars of Lebanon’. However, when he exhibited it in 1861, it was dismissed by ‘The Times’ critic and failed to sell. Lear’s later life was one of constant struggle; largely ignored by the picture-buying public, he depended increasingly on his friends to buy his work.
While working on his painting Kangchenjunga in his studio in San Remo, he wrote to Lord Aberdare,
‘I intend that the ‘Kinchinjunga’ shall be so good a picture that nobody will ever be able,- if it hung in your Dining room- to eat any dinner along of contemplating it- so that the painting will not only be a desirable but a highly economical object.
Lord Aberdare was delighted with the finished work,
‘I am really immensely please that the Venerable the Kinchinjunga is so well placed and so much liked, Lear wrote to him. ‘All I beg of you particularly is this-that if it stands on the ground, you will put up a railing to prevent the children from falling over the edge into the Abyss.’
We are grateful to Dr Vivien Noakes, author of ‘Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer’ and curator of ‘Edward Lear: 1812-1888′, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1985, for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.


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Edward Lear, Jericho (1865)


Edward Lear, Jericho.
Signed with monogram, inscribed ‘JCS’ and dated ‘1865’ l.r. Watercolour and bodycolour. 17.7 x 25.2 cm. (7 x 10 in.)

Catherine Symonds, a gift from the artist;
By descent to H.J. Vaughan;
Christie’s London, 26 April 1963, lot 52.

This is a version, with minor variations, for instance the height of the trees on the right, of the finished work of the same size and medium on buff paper, formerly in the collections of John Addington Symonds, Dame Janet Vaughan and Miss W.W. Vaughan (sold at Sotheby’s London, 13 November 1980, lot 175), which is signed with Lear’s monogram and dated both ‘1858’ and ‘1862’. The first date presumably refers to the year of Lear’s visit to the Holy Land; he was at Jericho on 7 May 1858 after stopping in Jerusalem following his stay at Petra in late April (see V. Noakes, Edward Lear, 1812-1888, ex. cat., London, Royal Academy, 1985, p. 110, no. 25e).
We are not certain of the meaning of the inscription and date ‘JCS 1865′ on the present drawing. There is no evidence of Lear collaborating nor can there be any doubt that the watercolour is by Lear. The most plausible explanation is that Lear added the initials and date when he gave the watercolour to the Symonds, the initials are those of Mrs Symond’s whose first names were Janet Catherine, and the date, ‘1865’ is the year in which she gave birth to her daughter Janet. Lear had known Mrs Symonds since she herself had been a child and had been a regular visitor at her father’s house (Mr. Frederick North, MP for Hastings), so it is quite possible that he gave her this watercolour to mark the occasion of the birth of her first child. Catherine married the poet and author John Addington Symonds on 10 November 1864 and Janet was born on 22 October 1865. Why the family possessed two versions of the subject remains a matter for speculation, it is possible that the two watercolours were kept in different houses; due to the ill health of both Mr Symonds and his daughter Janet, the family lived abroad a great deal including a period when they rented Lear’s house the Villa Emily in San Remo, Italy. Lear remained a close friend of the Symonds family and his first and perhaps most famous nonsense song The Owl and the Pussycat, was written for Janet Symonds. For further information regarding Lear and Symonds, see P. Grosskurth, John Addington Symonds, London, 1964, pp.124, 126-7 and 199.
We are grateful to Vivien Noakes for her assistance in the preparation of this catalogue entry.


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Edward Lear, Sunset on the Nile, above Aswan (1871)


Edward Lear, Sunset on the Nile, above Aswan.
Signed with monogram (lower left); bears exhibition label and inscribed, signed and dated ‘On the Nile/Edward Lear/1871′ (verso). Oil on canvas. 24 x 47cm (9 7/16 x 18 1/2in).

Purchased directly from the artist in 1871 by Ernest Noel (1831-1931), M.P. for Dumfries Burghs 1874 to 1886.
Audrey Baillie Theron (neé Noel).
Jacqueline Marie Malcolm (neé Theron).
Thence by direct descent to the current owner.

Ernest Noel befriended Edward Lear when they were both passengers on a journey down the Nile in Egypt. It is thought Noel commissioned the current lot on the basis of sketches he had watched Lear execute during the voyage.
Lear made his first trip to Egypt in 1849. He expressed his excitement about the upcoming trip in a letter to another close friend, Lord Fortescue:
“the contemplation of Egypt must fill the mind, the artistic mind I mean, with great food for the rumination of long years” (12 February 1848 quoted in ed. Lady Strachey, The Letters of Edward Lear, 1907, pp.8-9).
The trip did not disappoint, and Lear was deeply struck by the powerful colours and light of Egypt. Indeed, he enjoyed the country so much that he made another trip during the winter of 1853-4, arriving in Cairo on the 18th December 1853. He had planned to travel around Egypt with the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt and initially intended to wait for his friend in the capital city before commencing his travels. However, he developed a fever and as Cairo was damp he decided that he would leave at once for Upper Egypt and the Nile.
Lear’s letters from this trip to his sister Ann are full of delight about his travels up the Nile; he described the river as “magnificent…with endless villages – hundreds & hundreds on its banks, all fringed with palms, & reflected in the water; – the usual accompaniments of buffaloes, camels etc. abound, but the multitude of birds it is utterly impossible to describe, – geese, pelicans, plovers, eagles, hawks, cranes, herons, hoopoes, doves, pigeons, king fishers & many others. The most beautiful feature is the number of boats which look like giant moths, – & sometimes there is a fleet of 20 or 30 in sight at once.” (Lear to Ann, 4th January 1854, as quoted in Noakes, 1968, p.122).
As with all his travels, he captured his impressions in detailed annotated drawings and watercolours, drawn en plein air, which he used as reference for his larger scale studio oils on canvas, such as the present lot, upon his return to England:
“I have done very little in oils, as the colours dry fast, & the sand injures them; watercolours are also difficult to use. But I have made a great many outlines.” (the artist, as quoted in Noakes 1991, p.65).
Thirteen years later, Lear made his second trip up the Nile and his third and last visit to Egypt in December 1866 until March 1867. Once again it was Egypt’s rich colours that Lear found most remarkable, consequently filling his diary with details of their extraordinary brilliance and variety. The present painting is most likely worked up from sketches made during that final visit, demonstrating the extent to which Lear was captivated by the Nile’s astonishing scenery. He realised that his watercolour sketches from his previous trips had, by their very nature, failed to capture the intensity of colour: “It seems to me, my former drawings were not severe enough…” (the artist, as quoted in Noakes 1991, p.65).
“It will be difficult to work out anything like the sentiment – of the infinite detail of rocks!…the upper side light, the lower so dark. In the foreground – the pale rock & gritty sand is blazing bright – while all below is a dark depth. The farthest range of hills is sandy pale, with grey from crowds of rocks.”
However, Lear seemed to relish these challenges: “In no place – it seems to me, can the variety & simplicity of colours be so well studied as in Egypt; in no place are the various beauties of shadow more observable, or more interminably numerous. Every mud bank is a picture, every palm – every incident of peasant life” (Edward Lear, Diary, 25th February 1867).
The present lot demonstrates Lear’s master use of glazes to capture the brilliant light he described in his journal and letters. Three of Lear’s works titled On the Nile were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1871.


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Edward Lear Drops Holman Hunt’s Letters (An Unpublished Letter)

The following is a note Edward Lear sent to William Holman Hunt explaining what happened to two of Hunt’s letters Lear was supposed to post from London. There is a short reference to the accident in today’s diary entry (19.ix.64):

3 PM. 19. Sept. /64
Stratford Place.

My dear Daddy,

I was miserably vexed this morning at what happened to your letters ― tho’ as no harm has come of my mishap you may forgive me. In taking out a letter from my jacket ^[front] pocket, I took out 2 of yours by mistake, & replaced them inadvertently in the similar pocket of my overcoat. This latter, finding myself too warm in walking, I took off, not supposing there was anything in the pockets, but unfortunately the 2 letters fell out, & were ― luckily, ― picked up by the man who brought down my luggage ― who posted them at the station. The 3 letters I posted myself. Thus, you see, your letters will not reach their destination sooner than they would have done from Burton. I was immensely disgusted, & shall remember a double pocket in future. I do not remember any such accident ever happened to me before.

Take care not to do too much with your lame leg.

Your affly. E. Lear.

I found a letter from F. Lushington: Mrs. F. is better, & they are going[.]

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The First Terror of the Tiny Tads


First instalment of Gustave Verbeek’s Terrors of the Tiny Tads, May 28, 1905.

On Verbeek here and at nonsenselit.org.

From Peter Maresca’s Origin of Sunday Comics series.

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Edward Lear, View of the Roman Campagna


Edward Lear, View of the Roman Campagna and the Alexandrine Aqueduct.
Signed with monogram (lower left). Watercolour heightened with white. 17.8 x 38.1cm (7 x 15in).


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