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Edward Lear

1812 – 1888

Little Egret (Ardea garzetta) by Edward Lear

Little Egret (Ardea garzetta)   1833/37

  Original lithograph, coloured by hand.
Signed and dated on the stone.
Ref: Royal Academy of Arts (1985) 12 & p.208
S 354 x 505 mm; I (approx.) 280 x 440 mm
Beautiful impression with fresh, delicate hand colouring. First edition, as first issued for John Gould’s The Birds of Europe in 1837.

Although widely known for his achievements in a variety of fields, Edward Lear’s first profession as a young man was as an ornithological draughtsman. By the time he was nineteen he was working on his brilliant lithographic Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots, which he published himself for subscribers. However, without financial backing, Edward Lear was unable to complete the work, and from April 1832 until July 1837 he worked as an ornithological and natural history draughtsman for other employers. The man for whom he did most work was John Gould (1804-1881).

Plans for Edward Lear’s contribution to Gould’s enormous undertaking of The Birds of Europe, date from a trip to Europe made with the publisher in either 1828 or 1830. In the view of the current leading authority on Edward Lear, Vivien Noakes, “The plates he contributed to Gould’s Birds of Europe are some of the finest of his ornithological works; the larger, less pretty birds, are drawn with an understanding which he never exceeded.” (Royal Academy Catalogue, p.91).

Edward Lear’s contribution to the art of ornithological draughtsmanship is often overlooked due to his extraordinary achievements in the fields of painting and poetry. His insistence upon drawing direct from life wherever possible, rather than from stuffed specimens, contributed greatly to these studies. The zoological gardens which had opened only recently, in 1829, in Regents Park afforded new opportunities to study many species which had not been available previously. Although this practice of working from life made drawing more difficult, it resulted in more truthful representations, both anatomically and in the characteristics of the birds he portrayed. It is notable that Edward Lear is remembered through three species of bird which are named after him.

On warm white wove paper with wide margins. One short expertly repaired tear at extreme lower edge of sheet, otherwise generally very fine condition.