Edward Lear, Aswan on the Nile

Edward Lear, Aswan on the Nile, Egypt.
Inscribed and dated ‘Assoan [sic] 10.25. AM. Jany 27. 1867.’ (lower left) and numbered ‘(241)’ (lower right) and further inscribed with colour notes and further inscribed ‘lowest’ (on the reverse). Pencil, pen and black ink and watercolour, heightened with touches of white. 2½ x 10½ in. (6.4 x 26.6 cm.).

This small, jewel-like watercolour dates from Lear’s second and final Nile trip of 1867. Before his first visit of 1854 he had written, ‘the contemplation of Egypt must fill the mind, the artistic mind I mean, with great food for rumination of long years’. He was deeply impressed by what he called ‘the great granite hills of Assouan’.

At the beginning of 1867 Lear travelled south from Cairo, picking up his Canadian cousin Archie Jones at Luxor. They reached the second cataract, the most southerly point of their journey, on 4 February. At Aswan, where Lear executed the present drawing at 10.25 on the morning of 27 January, he also executed a larger panoramic drawing of the river, which he numbered ‘245’. That was done at 5.30 pm. At 11.30 am, immediately after executing the present drawing, he turned his attention away from the river and drew the Aswan quarries. The quarry drawing, which is rectangular in format, is numbered ‘242’.

The following day Lear rose early and executed more drawings at Aswan, at 8.30 am and 9-10 am, before leaving for Es Shelaal, where he executed his next view at 4.45 pm. These three drawings are numbered 246, 248 and 249. The drawing numbered 247, which has not been found, must have been executed between 8.30 and 9.00 am at Aswan. The drawing numbered 260 was done at 2.30pm on 29 January and is inscribed ‘Shelaal’. By the 30 January Lear was at the first cataract at Philae.

Within this remarkable sequence of dated drawings, the present drawing (241) and the examples numbered 246 and 260 are all panoramic river views measuring between 2 and 3 inches in height and 10 and 11 inches in width. Of these three, the present example is by far the most refined.

Christie’s.

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