Lears projected “Topography of Greece

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.

Bassae, 14 April 1849. The Higgins, Bedford.

This page lists Lear’s travels in Greece in chronological order, with links to the individual journeys, and a select bibliography.   A map (currently under construction) indicates the places Lear visited, and a list of collections worldwide indicates where his work can be found.

The journeys


Edward Lear, Fruit trees, 1863. Yale Center for British Art.

Αγριοκήπιον Βασιλάκης [Basilakis Estate, Corfu], 3 April 1864. Catalogued as: Fruit trees.
Yale Center for British Art.

Note: 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.

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
  • Bolton Museum
  • Bridlington: Burton Agnes Hall
  • Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
  • Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
  • Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum; Trinity College
  • Edinburgh: Scottish National Gallery
  • Eton College
  • 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
  • Rochdale: Touchstones
  • Sheffield: Graves Art Gallery
  • Swansea: Glynn Vivian Art Gallery
  • Winchester College

 

Greece

  • Benaki Museum
  • British School at Athens
  • Gennadius Library
  • Museum of the City of Athens

 

USA

  • 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

 

Canada

  • Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada

 

Australia

  • Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia
  • Hobart: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
  • Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

New Zealand

  • Dunedin Public Art Gallery
  • Wellington: Museum of New Zealand

 

South Africa

  • Cape Town: Iziko Museums of South Africa

      

Metzovo, 15 May 1869. Scottish National Gallery

Metzovo, 15 May 1869. Scottish National Gallery

Leucada, 7.30am, 21 April 1863. Gennadius Library.

Leucada, 7.30am, 21 April 1863. Gennadius Library.

Akrotiri, Crete, 10am, 22 April 1864. Getty Center, Los Angeles.

Akrotiri, Crete, 10am, 22 April 1864. Getty Center, Los Angeles.

Ithaca, 10am, 28 April 1863.  Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Ithaca, 10am, 28 April 1863. Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Bibliography

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. (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).


Fani-Maria Tsigakou, “Reassessing the Edward Lear Collection at the Benaki Museum”,  Μουσείο Μπενάκη 2 (2002): 137–46.


Stephen Duckworth, “Edward Lear’s Cretan Drawings”, The New Griffon 12 (2011): 103–115.

 

Edward Lear:The Cretan Journal, ed. Rowena Fowler (Athens: Denise Harvey, 1984; 3rd ed., 2012).

 

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.


Durrell:  Lear's Corfu