Edward Lear, The Monastery of Agios Pavlos, Mount Athos

Edward Lear, The Monastery of Agios Pavlos, Mount Athos.
Inscribed in Greek ‘Saint Paul’, and dated ‘9.10. Sept./ 1856’ (lower right) and extensively inscribed with colour notes throughout. Pencil, pen and brown ink and watercolour, on buff paper. 21 ¼ x 14 7/8 in. (54 x 37.8 cm.).

First documented in 972 AD and dedicated to Christ the Saviour, the monastery of St Paul was founded on the western side of Mount Athos. It is ranked 14th in the hierarchy of Mont Athos.

Provenance

Charles Church, a gift from the artist; and by descent to
Mary Church, given by her to
Canon John McLeod Campbell Crum and by descent to
Miss Margaret Crum; Sotheby’s, London, 12 March, 1987, lot 93.
with Agnew’s, London, where purchased by the present owner.

Description

Property from a Private European Collection (lots 120-125)

Between 1853 and 1868, Lear spent the years travelling throughout the Mediterranean. He had attempted to visit Mount Athos, in 1848 and 1849 with Charles Church, but without success. He eventually arrived there in September 1856, when he spent three weeks travelling throughout the peninsular and managed to visit all twenty principal monasteries and most of their dependencies. The location provided him with the perfect subject matter; mediaeval architecture perched on the rocks of the Holy Mountain, on stark promontories overlooking the Aegean or sometimes almost hidden among secluded cypress groves and lush vegetation.

Lear produced numerous drawings which he intended to publish on his return to England and although this was never fulfilled, he did adapt several of his drawings for his series of illustrations to Tennyson’s poems in the 1880s. He also painted at least 10 oils of the area, based on his drawings, the most famous being his painting of Mount Athos with the Monastery of Stavroniketes, (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven).

His record of all of the monasteries on Mount Athos, must have been unique and he described them in a letter to Emily Tennyson as ‘very valuable’ (V. Noakes, Edward Lear, selected letters, Oxford, 1988, p.138). That he did not pursue this project may have been in part due to his ambivalence to the monastic life, which he expressed in a letter to Chichester Fortescue, ‘However wondrous and picturesque the exterior & interior of the monasteries, & however abundantly & exquisitely glorious & stupendous the scenery of the mountain, I would not go again to Ayios Oros for any money, so gloomy, so shockingly unnatural, so lying, so unatonably odious seems to me the atmosphere of such monkery’ (Lady Strachey (ed.), Letters of Edward Lear, London, 1907, p. 41).

Despite his feelings about monastic life and the isolation of the inhabitants of the ‘Holy Mountain’, Lear was received warmly wherever he went and found the landscape and architecture beautiful. He captured the approach to Mount Athos in a letter to his sister Ann, ‘one crosses a ridge of hills, whence Mount Athos is first discovered – a blue peak on a bluer sea – seen above the most wondrous forests of beech I ever beheld. Nothing did I ever behold more lovely than those views’. As he crossed to the isthmus, the path became ‘most toilsome through the wildest and grandest forest scenery – from which every now and then you looked out on such screens and depths of green wood as would astonish those who talk of England as having more trees than other countries’.

Exhibited

London, Fine Art Society, Edward Lear, A Centenary Exhibition, June 1988.
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, Happy Birthday Mr Lear. 200 Years of Nature and Nonsense, September 2012 – January 2013, unnumbered.

Christie’s.

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Edward Lear, View of Ithaca

Edward Lear, View of Ithaca.
Inscribed, dated and numbered ‘Ithaca./ 27.April. 4.30.P.M. 1863. (83)’ (lower right) and further annotated in Greek with key of names of the other Ionian Islands. Pencil, pen and brown and grey ink and watercolour. 9 1/8 x 14 ¼ in. (23.2 x 36.2 cm.).

Provenance

with Spink, London, where purchased by the present owner.

Christie’s.

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Edward Lear, The Monastery of Konstatmonitou, Mount Athos

Edward Lear, The Monastery of Konstatmonitou, Mount Athos.
inscribed in English and Greek and dated ’16.Sept.1856′ and further inscribed in Greek (lower left) and with colour notes throughout. Pencil, pen and brown ink and watercolour. 13 5/8 x 19 ¼ in. (34.6 x 48.9 cm.).

he monastery was built in the 10th Century, in a forest about 50 minutes from the coast on the south east side of Mount Athos. It is ranked 20th in the hierarchy of Mount Athos.

Provenance

with Agnew’s, London, 1974, where purchased by the present owner.

Exhibited

Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, Happy Birthday Mr Lear, 200 Years of Nature and Nonsense, September 2012 – January 2013, unnumbered.

Christie’s.

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Edward Lear, The Monastery of Koutloumousiou, Mount Athos

Edward Lear, The Monastery of Koutloumousiou, Mount Athos.
signed with monogram, indistinctly inscribed in Greek and dated ‘Sept.1.1856.’ (lower right) and dated again ‘1.Sept’ (lower left, in pencil). Pencil, pen and brown ink and watercolour. 9 1/8 x 12 ½ in. (23.1 x 31.7 cm.).

The monastery was built on the north east side of Mount Athos and was first documented in 1169. It ranks 6th in the hierarchy of Mount Athos.

Provenance

Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, London, 12 March 1987, lot 116.
with Agnew’s, London, where purchased by the present owner.

Christie’s.

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Gromboolia: Nonsense Art and Literature

Michael Heyman, one of the leading experts on world nonsense literature, has created a new website: Gromboolia: The Nonsense Art and Literature Site. It includes an anthology linking to several examples of nonsense literature, music, comics and so on, as well as a new blog and information on Michael’s creative and academic publications.

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Edward Lear in Spanish

A new translation of Edward Lear’s limericks, by Herrín Hidalgo, has just been published in Spain by Media Vaca:

You can see some of the colorful pages here, read a short biography of Lear, and a special preface for children under 170 years.

Another Spanish translation was published a few years ago, simply titled Nonsense.

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Edward Lear & Friends in Corfu

Houghton Library owns an album of photographs from Franklin Lushington’s family, and its website includes a finding aid linking to a couple of digitized photographs. The one above is of particular interest as it shows some of the people Edward Lear met almost daily while staying in Corfu in 1857-58.

The photograph was probably taken with Lear’s own camera, though probably — if the photographs are arranged in chronological order — after he had sold it, on 1 February 1858, to Major Shakespear, who also appears with his wife, as well as Franklin Lushington, Edward Lear himself, and Rev. Sydney Clark, one of the few church people Lear appears to have appreciated.

The other digitized photograph is of Gertrude Lushington, for whom Lear worte “The owl and the Pussy-cat:”

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