04 February 2014

Edward Lear as a serious artist - updated

Most people who recognize the name "Edward Lear" remember him as the author of "nonsense verse," which he illustrated with line drawings.  I remember this verse and illustration from my childhood:

Lear was, however, a skilled artist, as the parrot at the top demonstrates.
“Although he is best remembered today as a whimsical nonsense poet, adventurous traveler, and painter of luminous landscapes,” Peck writes, “Edward Lear is revered in scientific circles as one of the greatest natural history painters of all time. During his relatively brief immersion in the world of science, he created a spectacular monograph on parrots and a body of other work that continues to inform, delight, and astonish us with its remarkable blend of scientific rigor and artistic finesse.”
So I'll offer a choice.  Those who would like to revisit the nonsense works can access fulltext (and fully illustrated) versions at this Project Gutenberg link.  Or you can see more examples of his bird paintings at Harvard Magazine.

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader Steven, who points out that a full reproduction of Lear's "Illustrations of the family of Psittacidae, or parrots..." is available online courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections. There are 42 brightly-colored lithographs there, such as this one of the Stanley parakeet:

 (image cropped from the original)


  1. I would have missed that answer/question on Jeopardy; I thought that was an Ogden Nash poem.

  2. Midwesterners, the current show at the Bell Museum of Natural History (U of Minn. Campus) is "Audubon and the Art of Birds." Only about 1/2 the original works are by Audubon - the rest by other artists who influenced or were influenced by Audubon himself. A very good show, and (in early Dec. at least) it includes a large watercolor/gouache by a very young Edward Lear (ae 20 or so). On the small placard (...I don't know what you call the little label/description next to an art piece) one learns that Lear worked as a professional bird artist as a young man, but gave it up as too labor intensive, (and possibly, I think, to solitary a field for such a gregarious soul.)

    The show includes work by Audubon (...naturally!) but also Francis Lee Jaques, Roger Tory Peterson, Charley Harper, James Bond... and of the bunch, my sisters and I thought the Lear the standout work. Amazing artistry. If you're in the Twin Cities area, I highly recommend getting down to the Bell. (But do scout out parking beforehand. A nice parking structure a long-block away, but you'll need to have it circled on the map before wading into U/Minn campus traffic.)

  3. You and your readers may also be interested in viewing a full reproduction of Lear's "Illustrations of the family of Psittacidae, or parrots..." that is part of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.


  4. Of course the truly amazing thing about Lear is that he put out that parrot book when he was 20!


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