Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lear, Edward

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1423097Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 32 — Lear, Edward1892Charles William Sutton

LEAR, EDWARD (1812–1888), artist and author, was born at Holloway, London, on 12 May 1812. He was the youngest of a large family, of Danish descent, and at the early age of fifteen was obliged to earn his own living. At first he made tinted drawings of birds, and did other artistic work for shops and for hospitals and medical men. When nineteen (1831) he obtained employment as a draughtsman in the gardens of the Zoological Society, and in the following year he published 'The Family of the Psittacidse,' one of the earliest volumes of coloured plates of birds on a large scale published in England. He assisted J. Gould in his ornithological drawings, and did similar work for Professors Bell and Swainson, Sir W. Jardine, and Dr. J. E. Gray. From 1832 to 1836 he was engaged at Knowsley, the residence of the Earl of Derby, and drew the fine plates to the volume entitled 'The Knowsley Menagerie.' With the family at Knowsley he was always a great favourite, and it was for his patron's grandchildren that Lear invented his droll 'Book of Nonsense.' which was first published in 1846. From 1836 he devoted self to the study of landscape, and in 1837, partly for the sake of his health, he left England, and never afterwards permanently resided in his native country. For several years he lived at Rome, where he earned a good living as a drawing-master. He wandered as a sketcher through many parts of Southern Europe and in Palestine, and published some interesting and well-written records of his travels. When he was past sixty he visited India at the invitation of his friend, Lord Northbrook, then viceroy, and brought back many sketches. His landscapes, which belong to the 'classic' school, combine boldness of conception with great skill and accuracy of detail. He began to exhibit at the Suffolk Street Gallery in 1836, and at the Royal Academy in 1850. His first oil paintings were done in 1840, and his latest in 1853. During one of his occasional visits to England, in 1845, he had the honour of giving lessons in drawing to the queen. The last few years of his life were spent at San Remo, where he died in January 1888. His remains lie in the cemetery of that place.

His works include: 1. 'Illustrations of the Family of the Psittacidæ.' 1832, fol. 2. J. E. Gray's 'Tortoises, Terrapins, and Turtles,' drawn from life by Sowerby and Lear, fol. 3. 'Views in Rome and its Environs.' 1841, fol. 4. 'Gleanings from the Menagerie at Knowsley Hall.' 1846, fol. 5. 'Illustrated Excursions in Italy.' 1846, fol. 2 vols. 6. 'Book of Nonsense.' 1846; 2nd edit. 1862. Of this volume of humour there have been twenty-six editions. It was followed by similar volumes entitled (7) 'Nonsense Songs and Stories.' 1871; (8) 'More Nonsense Songs, Pictures, &c..' 1872; (9) 'Laughable Lyrics.' 1877; and (10) 'Nonsense Botany and Nonsense Alphabets.' 11. 'Journal of a Landscape Painter in Greece and Albania,' 1851, 8vo. 12. 'Journal of a Landscape Painter in Southern Albania,' 1852, 8vo. 13. 'Views in the Seven Ionian Islands.' 1863, fol. 14. 'Journal of a Landscape Painter in Corsica.' 1870, 8vo. 15. 'Tennyson's Poems.' illustrated by Lear, 1889, 4to.

[Memoir by Franklin Lushington, prefixed to Lear's Illustrations to Tennyson; Preface to Nonsense Songs and Stories, 6th edit. 1888; Mag. of Art, March 1888, p. xxiv; information from Mr. J. Latter, Knowsley.]

C. W. S.