The Book of Nonsense as a Colouring Book

Now and then you can see listed on eBay copies of Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense in which some or all of the pictures have been coloured. Lear’s childish drawing style, with its large spaces waiting to be filled with bright colours, though unusual at the time, was probably as attractive to people with a fancy for the brush as the accompanying limericks.

In most cases the colouring is probably only the result of a bored child’s lack of anything better to do, but sometimes the artist has done an excellent job, as in the case of some sheets listed some time ago (see the set). According to the seller, these were taken from an 1862 Routledge edition, printed by the Dalziel Brothers, Camden Press.

It is quite obvious that the person who put the colour had a project and a personal view of the limericks: the characters’ faces are painted white and so enhance the impression that the limericks are not really about people, but rather puppets or clowns:

Old Man of Cape Horn

Notice, by the way, how the colours bring out the Old Man’s resemblance to Humpty Dumpty.

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