Edward Lear, if recognized at all, is most commonly remembered as the endearing master of nonsense verse (e.g. the owl and the pussycat who went to sea in a pea-green boat) and for his enduring limericks (he virtually invented the form). But the first manifestation of his genius was his penchant for drawing - and especially for capturing animals directly from life. He was, like many of his English contemporaries, precocious, displaying his talent at a shockingly early age and publishing his first book, a monograph on the parrot family, when he was only eighteen. In it, he created what is still acknowledged as one of the premier, early works of lithography (Lear worked directly on the stones) and established a format that would be followed for decades by such publishers as Gould, with whom he worked closely and often anonymously. But the first decade of his artistic life was primarily devoted to creating works of natural history, working with the infrastructure of British scientists, collectors, and publishers who made that country the nexus for scientific investigation and its dissemination for much of the nineteenth century.
Despite his fragile health (he was almost certainly a diabetic and suffered from chronic bronchitis and asthma his entire life), Lear was blessed with a sanguine disposition, a gift for making friends and attracting supporters. And he was incredibly prolific, producing an impressive number of drawings for scientific publications, a large number of superb natural history paintings, and countless detailed and delicate drawings for public institutions and private patrons, not just of English species, but of birds and mammals from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas.
Robert Peck has masterfully assembled and evaluated this diverse material and written the first book to fully explore Lear's talents as a natural history artist. Augmented by over 200 full-color illustrations, many of them drawn from the extraordinary collection at the Houghton Library at Harvard, extended to include the influence Lear has had on such modern artists and illustrators as Walton Ford and Tony Foster, and enlivened by a Foreword by Sir David Attenborough, this book goes far beyond the scope of a dry scholarly study. It is a fascinating exploration of the dawn of natural history's golden age of color, made more so by Lear's humor, travels, friends, and his extravagant gifts as an artist.
'The focus of the book is on Lear as a painter of natural history, with plenty of his illustrations beautifully reproduced within. This is a keepsake for fans of Lear and anyone interested in art and natural history.' -Publishers Weekly