Lear is remembered as humorist, zoological draughtsman, poet and musician, but perhaps his greatest works are his beautifully-observed landscape drawings and watercolours. He began his career at the age of sixteen, drawing animals and birds in the London Zoo. After 1837 he made his living as a landscape painter, travelling throughout Europe and as far afield as India in search of new places to draw.
The Landscape Artist in Greece
Lear’s journey with Charles Church in 1848 was his first visit to Greece; he later settled in Corfu and travelled widely in what is now Greece: his “polygraphic Hellenic proclivities” were to produce approximately 3,000 Greek drawings.
Lear sketched swiftly on the spot, scribbling notes on his preliminary drawings and numbering them; later, indoors, he would ‘pen out’, inking over his pencil outlines and adding colour wash. The sketches could then be worked up as finished “studio” watercolours or more ambitious oil paintings, for exhibition and sale.
Pictures from the 1848 Trip
Lear’s numbered series runs from 1 to 143A, with a few unnumbered figure and flower drawings. We know the present whereabouts of only 51 of the numbered series, though others are well documented from sale and exhibition catalogues. Throughout his life Lear continued to work from his original drawings; we have identified eleven studio watercolours and three oil paintings. Oil was used for the most “famous” scenes: Marathon and Thermopylae, of which there is an example below.
The Numbered Series
Below we have drawn together the pictures from Lear’s numbered series. They are displayed in the order given by Lear, according to his running numbers, displayed above each image.
Number 4 – Athens: Hephaisteion
Number 6 – Athens
Number 7 – Athens, the Acropolis
Number 8 – Athens
Number 10 – Athens, the Hephaistion from the Acropolis
Number 12 – Athens, Temple of Minerva
Number 13 – Athens, Temple of Nike Apteros
Number 19 – Athens
Number 23 – Athens from Mount Lycabettus
Number 26 – Athens
Number 27 – Athens
Number 28 – Athens, Royal Palace
Number 32 – Marathon
Number 36 – Marathon
Number 43 – Vathy, near Chalcis
Number 57 – Near Kymi
Number 59 – Near Kymi
Number 61 – Vrisi on the island of Euboea
Number 62 – Mount Dirphys
Number 66 – Between Chalkis and Castella
Number 67 – Castella
Number 71 – Near Achmèt Agà
Number 72 – In the Pine Forests near Achmèt Agà
Number 78 – Near Achmèt Agà
Number 81 – Near Kokinamelia
Number 82 – Forest, Sea and Mountains, Kokinamelia