In celebration of Edward Lear (1812-2012)

Bicentenary of Edward Lear 12 May 1812

Edward Lear is better remembered for his literary nonsense than for his outstanding contributions as a zoological illustrator. The Zoological Society of London is fortunate to have twelve original watercolours by Lear, seven of which formed the basis of lithographic colour plates published in Transactions of the Zoological Society.  We are celebrating his bicentenary with this wonderful first description of an Asiatic lion, Some Account of the maneless Lion of Guzerat by Captain Walter Smee, beautifully illustrated by Lear.

Born in North London on 12 May 1812, Lear was the twentieth of twenty-one children.  From early childhood he was blighted by poor health, with frequent bouts of bronchitis, asthma and epilepsy, which he referred to as ‘the Demon’. Raised by his eldest sister, 21 years his senior, Lear also began to experience depression, which he named ‘the Morbids’.  By the age of 16 Lear was earning his keep selling drawings and he applied to the Zoological Society of London for permission to draw parrots.  From 1832 to 1836 he was employed by the Earl of Derby drawing animals in his private collection. Lear’s first publication, when he was 19, was Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae or Parrots in 1830. Two parrots bear Lear’s name: Lapochroa leari, Lear’s cockatoo, and Anodorhynchus leari, Lear’s macaw.  Lear moved on to painting landscapes in Italy, and during a visit to England in 1846 he was briefly drawing master to Queen Victoria.  His 1861 Book of Nonsense included forty-three limericks and he published a further hundred in More Nonsense 1871. He also produced nonsense alphabets, nonsense cookery and nonsense botany.  Lear settled in San Remo, on the Mediterranean coast in the 1870s, and died in 1888 after a long decline in his health. Extraordinary articles on zoology are available in the backfiles of Proceedings andTransactions of the Zoological Society, available from Wiley.  Enjoy!

By Linda DaVolls

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