Spotlight on Gallery 7: Edward Lear – ‘Assouan’ (1848-49)

Art Sheds Collections, Susan Forsyth

In Gallery 7, you can see a selection of artworks from the collections of the Victoria Gallery & Museum.  Susan Forsyth has hand-picked some of her favourite pieces, including works which she considers compliment and/or represent the grandeur and importance of the Victoria Gallery & Museum’s collections. Here, Susan looks at one of those artworks in depth.

Assouan - Edward Lear

Assouan – Edward Lear

Though best known as a writer Lear was a naturally talented draftsman drawing birds for the Zoological Society.  His first publication was not as a writer but a serious ornithological book illustrating the parrot family.

‘The Owl & the Pussycat’, written in 1867 for the children of one of his patrons, is full of the joy and carelessness of childhood.  It is one of my favourite poems and the achievement is all the more astonishing when we consider that it’s author was the youngest of 21 children and his a childhood marred by epilepsy, poverty and what Lear himself called ‘the morbids’.

Lear travelled widely in Greece, Egypt, India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and eventually settled down to live on the Italian Riviera. This peaceful watercolour of an Egyptian coastline from 1848-49 was one of the first paintings I selected for the exhibition. Lear usually drew the scenes from life and worked them into watercolour paintings later in the studio.

Though Edward Lear did struggle with personal relationships and unrequited love affairs and spurned marriage proposals his professional life as a writer, draftsman and painter was a story of complete triumph over oppressive circumstances and makes the childhood poem all the more poignant.