Edward Lear (1812-1888) was a prolific landscape painter as well as as a prominent satirical writer. Lear was the last of twenty one children. Due to financial trouble in the family, he was raised and educated by his sisters. He started painting for a living from from adolescence. 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 had reached his sixties. Lear also travelled to Switzerland, the Adriatic sea, Southern France, Malta and Turkey. He spent some of the happiest years of his life on the Ionian islands. He died in San Remo, Italy. As a writer, he is often compared to Lewis Carroll. They both are considered among the most influential exponents of literary nonsense during the Victorian Era. Lear adopted the limerick as his means, which was an already widely used form to compose satirical rhymes. He had the skill to avoid vulgarity, and a sense of humour which 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 restrain himself to landscape painting.
From 1837, Lear lived in Italy. In 1848 he journeyed to Greek lands for the first time. He enthusiastically aimed to depict the authentic physiognomy of the country. 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 hired Giorgos Kokkalis as his servant. Kokkalis was Lear’s personal assistant 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 consists in coloured wash drawings, later painted over with watercolour. Lear used to accompany his drawings with hand-written notes, usually on topography. He would paint the sketches over months or even years later. He travelled to the Ionian islands, Athens and Attica, Euboea, Boeotia, Epirus, Mount Athos, Thessaly, Macedonia, Albania, the Peloponnese, Crete and other islands, leaving behind him a total of approximately 3000 works, representative of an endeavour to interpret the Greek landscape. His pictures are an invaluable testimony on the country in the years following the Revolution, and preceding violent human intervention and the invasion of western elements.
In the introduction to this edition, which is a reproduction of his work on the Ionian islands, Lear stresses that this land is ideal, endowed with generous beauty, a variety of shapes and colours, while at every station of his journey the traveller enjoys the warm hospitality of the locals. The volume includes eight views of Corfu, three of Leucas, Cefalonia and Zakynthos each, and one view of Paxoi, Ithaca and Cythera. Of great value are also his records of each island’s population (Corfu 68.000. Lefkada 21.000, Cefalonia 72.000, Zakynthos 38.000, Paxoi 5.000, Ithaca 12.000, Cythera 14.00 inhabitants). The small introductory texts with geographical and historical information are completed by observations on the life of the locals.
In all of his works, Lear has achieved to render the rich vegetation, the calmness of the summer sea in the enclosed gulfs, the volumes of the mountains against the faint horizon, the human figures in their everyday activities on the foreground. The painter sketched his landscapes from the best viewpoint, thus achieving to higlight the unique beauty of each one of them.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou