“Nonsense!” – Words from Edward Lear, music by Mel Orriss

Festive Flutes and Mel Orriss perform six of Lear’s limericks set to music.

Also, form the same event (I suppose):

Festive Flutes and Mel Orriss perform “The House That Jack Built” at Cedars Hall, Wells, 4th February 2018.

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A Lecture and an Auction

If you have $15,000-20,000 you do not know how to spend, you might want to buy the FIRST VOLUME only of Edward lear’s original 1846 Book of Nonsense:

If you can’t afford it, at least watch this extremely interesting lecture by Matthew Bevis, Edward Lear’s Vision, or here if you prefer to get it from iTunes together with his and Jasmine Jagger’s previous podcasts. Matt here explores the remarkable interconnections between Lear’s nonsense and his painting; also included are some surprising discoveries about Edward Lear’s indebtedness to Thomas Rowlandson in one of his picture stories. Don’t miss this!


Here is the auction description for the Book of Nonsense from Christie’s website:

LEAR, Edward (1812-1888). A Book of Nonsense. Derry Down Derry. London: Thomas McLean, 1846.
The rare first edition of Lear’s classic book of children’s verse. The Manney copy. This work popularized the limerick, although it was not yet known by that name, as a humorous form of verse. Lear recalled in 1871: “the lines beginning There was an Old Man of Tobago were suggested to me by a valued friend, as a form of verse lending itself to limitless variety for Rhymes and Pictures” (Noakes). Three limericks present here were omitted from later editions, and have been published only in recent reprints. According to ABPC, only three complete copies of this book have sold at auction in the last thirty years. Noakes 72(c); Schiller Nonsensus(1988) passim, census no. 22.
Volume one only (of 2), octavo (141 x 210mm). 37 lithographed leaves, printed on rectos only (some foxing, some marginal repairs).Original lithographed pictorial boards (skillfully rebacked in red morocco, rubbed, corners retouched); blue quarter morocco slipcase. Provenance: Edgar S. Oppenheimer (d.1958, his sale Sotheby’s Hodgsons, 21-22 October 1976, lot 1527) – Justin G. Schiller (bookplate) – Richard Manney (bookplate; his sale Sotheby’s New York, 11 October 1991, lot 202).

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Thomas Uwins, A Hop Picker at Farnham

Thomas Uwins (NOT Unwins) was James Uwins’s uncle: the latter, probably on the recommendation of his relative, travelled with Edward Lear to Naples, Amalfi and finally to La Cava. In addition to the introduction on Lear, I wrote a short article and translated a couple of letters from the area by Thomas for the forthcoming Amalfi catalogue: Edward Lear: Visioni inedite della Costa di Amalfi.

The two pictures here are earlier than Thomas’s long residence in Italy and are dated 1811.

Thomas Unwins (1782-1857), A Hop Picker at Farnham.
Pen and ink, with another sketch verso, 28cm x 37.5cm.

During his seven years in Italy he specialised in painting everyday events from the life of Neapolitan people, here is an example of his famous “tarantellas” from Christie’s:

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Edward Lear, Monte Generoso (1879)

Edward Lear, Monte Generoso.
Pen and brown ink, inscribed and dated 1879, 25cm x 52cm. Illustrated.

The Saleroom.

With thanks to Stephen Duckworth.

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Edward Lear, Portrait of a Lady in Traditional Italian Dress (1838)

An unusual portrait by Edward Lear.

Edward Lear, Portrait of a lady in traditional Italian dress, seated with lake beyond [recto]; Head study and inscription [verso].
Watercolour, over graphite, dated ‘Jan 17th/ 1838′ lower left, 227 x 140 mm. (8 7/8 x 5 1/2 in), inscribed verso ’14/ upright/ Lower/ left’. Corners trimmed by the artist, the sheet tipped at edges into paper support, 1838. Together with a landscape of an Italian hill-top town by the same hand, pen and black ink, gouache, over graphite, on blue wove paper, 105 x 160 mm. (4 1/8 x 6 1/4 in), inscribed verso ‘117/ upright/Top’, corners trimmed by the artist, [probably late 1830s] (2).

Sale. Sotheby’s London, The British Sale, 21st March 2001, lot 247 (the pair)

In private correspondence with the present owner, the Houghton Library has suggested that the costume study would have been executed while the artist was working in and around Rome, and that the inscriptions on the verso of each drawing were instructions of how Lear wanted the works mounted with other drawings on large sheets of cardboard, which was how the artist originally intended their presentation.

The Saleroom.

Also take a look at this Bonhams catalogue, Wassenaar Zoo: A Dutch private Library, which includes several books with Edward Lear zoological illustrations.

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Two More Worth Reading on Edward Lear

A few weeks ago, Cabinet: A Quarterly of Art and Culture published a long article by D. Graham Burnett on Edward Lear’s “The Dong with a Luminous Nose” in its “The Nose” Issue 64, pp. 84-91: “The Luminosity of the Nose” is now available for download from Burnett’s own website.

The New Yorker, in its April 23 issue, behind a David Hockney cover has a long review of Jenny Uglow’s Mr Lear by Adam Gopnik, “The Sense beneath Edward Lear’s Nonsense,” among whose many original observations I’ll quote this comparison between Lear and Audubon:

Lear’s parrots, for all their exoticism, strike a distinctly English note, and are almost like Regency political cartoons in their airy, bright-colored clarity. In fact, the differences in style between Audubon’s and Lear’s birds suggest almost perfectly realized national types. Audubon was drawn to the democratic and the encyclopedic—birds of all kinds occupying a common space. Lear’s subject was the eccentric individual, poised on its perch. His parrots display plumage, fashion, and intelligence, mixed with aristocratic unself-consciousness. Where Audubon’s parrots gyrate and foreshorten themselves—one can almost hear them chattering as they press their beaks toward the picture plane—Lear’s are sphinxlike in their mysterious stillness. Audubon fixed a whole nation of birds in action in the wild, even when he had had their corpses wired and posed beforehand. Lear’s parrots, drawn from living captives in the newly opened London Zoo, are rich and self-sufficient on their perches. Their minimal movement—a feather astray here, a wing akimbo there—makes them look uncannily like Gainsborough’s feathery society beauties, who are equally silent, equally sure.

Another original touch is the fact that in the magazine the piece is entitled “Knowing Mr. Lear” while in the contents for the issue the title is given as “Edward Lear’s Bifurcated Life:” a trifurcated display of Lear appreciation. This article also has something to say on the “Dong ode,” noting that “the luminous nose of the Dong is not biological, like Rudolph’s. It is hand-tooled, like a steampunk machine… an up-to-date device, like an iPhone flashlight, for finding Jumbly Girls in the dark.”

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No Rest for the Lear-Lover: More to Read

Matthew Bevis’s fourth post on “Aspects of Edward Lear” is now available at the Houghton Library blog: it is concerned with nonsense incursions into Lear’s serious drawings. Here is a full list of Matthrew’s articles: I, II, III, IV.

Michael Heyman has published a very interesting article on music in children’s poetry:

“‘That Terrible Bugaboo’: The Role of Music in Poetry for Children,” in The Aesthetics of Children’s Poetry. Eds. Katherine Wakely-Mulroney and Louise Joy. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2018. 162-181.

Even though Lear does not appear in the title, he is the protagonist of several pages, with an interesting interpretation of “The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò,” poem, pictures and music.

Michael also had an article in the special issue on “Humour in Nonsense Literature” of the European Journal of Humour Research, “Pigs, pastures, pepper pickers, pitchforks: Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories and the tall tale,” pp. 56-67: you can read it here.

Michael Dirda reviews Jenny Uglow’s Edward Lear biography for the Washington Post: “A plump, Victorian gentleman who was so very pleasant to know.” Evidently the American edition has now been published.

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