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.