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LEAR, Edward. The Cretan Journal, Athens – Dedham, Denise Harvey & Company, 1984.

Edward Lear (1812-1888) was a prolific landscape painter as well as a prominent satirical writer. The last of twenty-one children, he was raised and educated by his sisters, due to financial troubles in the family. From adolescence he started painting for a living but because of the precarious state of his health he was obliged to travel to warmer climates. Thus, he toured Italy, Greece, Albania, Palestine, Syria, Egypt and many other places, even India when he was in his sixties. Lear also travelled in Switzerland, the Adriatic Sea, Southern France, Malta and Turkey. He spent some of the happiest years of his life in the Ionian Islands. He died in San Remo, Italy. As a writer, he is often compared to Lewis Carroll. Both are considered among the most influential exponents of nonsense literature during the Victorian Age. Lear adopted the limerick, a verse form already widely used, to compose his satirical rhymes. He had the talent to avoid vulgarity and a sense of humour that defied common sense.

Lear cultivated his drawing skills while painting subjects from nature on commission. He became very fond of colours and detail, but due to his poor eyesight he was forced to turn to landscape painting. From 1837, Lear lived in Italy. In 1848 he made his first journey to Greek lands, enthusiastically intent on depicting the country’s authentic face. He bequeathed us hundreds of Greek landscapes painted in his unique style, and equally impressive, thoroughly detailed diaries and letters on his life in Greece. In Corfu, Edward Lear engaged Giorgos Kokkalis, who served as his valet and travel companion for the next thirty years. Lear learned Greek and was acquainted with the British circles of the Ionian Islands, albeit only for professional reasons. He was fond of photography, but his principal technique was the pencil drawing, picked out in watercolour. Lear accompanied his drawings with handwritten notes, usually on topography. He would ink in the sketches months or even years later. He travelled in the Ionian Islands, Athens and Attica, Euboea, Boeotia, Epirus, Mount Athos, Thessaly, Macedonia, Albania, the Peloponnese, Crete and other islands, leaving behind him some 3,000 works, representative of an endeavour to interpret the Greek landscape. His images are an invaluable testimony on the country in the years following the War of Independence, and preceding uncontrolled human intervention and the invasion of Western elements.

This publication refers to Lear’s journey to Crete, a destination that, as he notes, he considered obligatory for every traveller. One of the reasons Lear visited Crete was that he was fond of speaking Greek and communicating with people, and the island lent itself to such pursuits. Thus, in April 1864, at the age of sixty, he sailed from Corfu and by way of Athens and Syros arrived at the island, where he stayed until June. He toured mostly in western Crete, Chania and its larger area to Vamos and Kissamos, Rethymnon to Arkadi and Tymbaki, and from Archanes to Herakleion. In his diary he records almost minute by minute his observations on nature and his emotions during his wearying journey.

As a successful landscape painter, in all his works Lear manages to render the vegetation and the rugged mountains of Crete, as well as notable monuments and buildings. At the same time, he enlivens his drawings with human figures involved in everyday tasks, in the foreground. He always made his drawings from the optimal viewpoint, thus enhancing the unique beauty of each landscape.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

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