Of all Edward Lear’s extensive travels, he retained a special affection for Greece, and a feeling that his own vision as a topographical artist might suit the Greek landscape.
“I cannot but think that Greece has been most imperfectly illustrated . . . the vast yet beautifully simply sweeping lines of the hills have hardly been represented I fancy—nor the primitive dry foregrounds of Elgin marble peasants &c. What do you think of a huge work (if I can do all Greece)?” (from a letter of August 1848).
From 1848 onwards, Lear travelled widely in what is now Greece, making approximately 1,500 sketches. He returned constantly to his Greek subjects in a range of artistic mediums (lithography, pen and ink, watercolour, oil) and in his travel writing.
Although he never fulfilled his aim of publishing the whole of his ’polygraphic Hellenic proclivities ” his Greek journeys can be reconstructed fairly accurately, from manuscripts, drawings and paintings and from printed and online sources.
Bassae, 14 April 1849. The Higgins, Bedford.
This page lists Lear’s travels in Greece in chronological order, with links to the individual journeys. There is a section on Lear’s Greek maps (currently under construction), and a select bibliography. Finally, a list of public collections worldwide indicates where his work can be found.
Greek place names are given here in their modern forms. Lear’s “Greek” travels were partly in provinces of the Ottoman empire, with place names in a mix of languages, or in the British Ionian Islands protectorate, which used the old Italian names. Lear never visited The Dodecanese, the Sporades, the Cyclades (except when his boat called in at Syros) or the islands of the N. and N.E. Aegean.
April–May 1848: Corfu and the other Ionian Islands (Paxos, Leucada, Zakynthos, Cephalonia, Ithaca, Cythera)
Αγριοκήπιον Βασιλάκης [Basilakis Estate, Corfu], 3 April 1863. Catalogued as: Fruit trees. Yale Center for British Art.
NOTE: This list includes only items related to Greece; an extensive bibliography of Lear is available, compiled by Marco Graziosi.
Edward Lear, Journals of a Landscape Painter in Greece and Albania, & c. [Online versions have text only] (London: Richard Bentley, 1851). Rptd (1) as Edward Lear in Greece. Introduction by Peter Quennell. (London: William Kimber, 1965). Rptd (2) as Edward Lear in Albania: Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans. Edited by Bejtullah D. Destani and Robert Elsie. (London: Centre for Albanian Studies, 2008).
Lawrence Durrell, Lear’s Corfu: An Anthology Drawn from the Painter’s Letters (Corfu Travel, 1965); rptd. as an appendix to Prospero’s Cell: A Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corcyra (London: Faber and Faber, 1975).
Edward Lear in Greece: A Loan Exhibition from the Gennadius Library, Athens (International Exhibitions Foundation, 1971).
Edward Lear The Corfu Years: A Chronicle Presented through his Letters and Journals, ed. Philip Sherrard (Athens and Dedham: Denise Harvey, 1988).
Η Ελλάδα του Edward Lear: Από τις Συλλογές της Γενναδείου / Edward Lear’s Greece: From the Gennadeion Collection, ed. Fani-Maria Tsigakou (Cultural Centre of Thessaloniki,1997).
Edward Lear's Greece: Watercolours from the Gennadius Library, Athens, ed. Fani-Maria Tsigakou (Princeton University Art Museum, 1999).
Ο Edward Lear & τα Ιόνια Νησιά / Edward Lear & the Ionian Islands (Corfu: Museum of Asian Art, 2012).
Quentin Russell, “In the Footsteps of Edward Lear (1812–1888): Assessing the Legacy of his 1848 Balkan Journey”, British Art Journal 15, 2 (Winter 2014): 59–67.
Where to see Lear’s Greek subjects
(compiled from the database of Lears in public collections, created by Stephen Duckworth)
The largest collections of Lear’s Greek drawings and paintings are those of the Gennadius Library, Athens and the Houghton Library, Harvard. In the UK the largest collections are those of the Scottish National Gallery and the Ashmolean Museum.
The following collections hold one or more of Lear’s Greek subjects:
Aldeburgh: Britten Pears Foundation
Bedford: The Higgins
Belfast: The Ulster Museum
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Bridlington: Burton Agnes Hall
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum; Trinity College
Edinburgh: Scottish National Gallery
Leeds Art Gallery
Liverpool Central Library
London: British Museum; Courtauld Institute; Government Art Collection; Tate Britain; Victoria and Albert Museum; William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow
Manchester: Whitworth Art Gallery
Newcastle upon Tyne: Laing Art Gallery
Newport (Gwent): Museum and Art Gallery
Oxford: Ashmolean Museum
Sheffield: Graves Art Gallery
Swansea: Glynn Vivian Art Gallery
British School at Athens
Museum of the City of Athens
Cambridge MA: Houghton Library Harvard
Houston TX: Museum of Fine Arts
Los Angeles CA: Getty Center
Madison WI: Chazen Museum of Art
New Haven CT: Yale Center for British Art
New York NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Morgan Library and Museum
Portland ME: Museum of Art
Rhode Island RI: School of Design
San Marino CA: Huntington Library and Art Gallery
Toledo OH: Museum of Art
Washington DC: National Gallery of Art
Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada
Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia
Hobart: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria
Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales
Dunedin Public Art Gallery
Wellington: Museum of New Zealand
Cape Town: Iziko Museums of South Africa
Metzovo, 15 May 1869. Scottish National Gallery
Leucada, 7.30am, 21 April 1863. Gennadius Library.
Akrotiri, Crete, 10am, 22 April 1864. Getty Center, Los Angeles.
Ithaca, 10am, 28 April 1863. Art Gallery of New South Wales.