Artist biography

English painter, draughtsman, illustrator and writer. He was epileptic and prone to fits of deep depression. Ill-health, weak sight and poverty all contributed to a lifelong sense of insecurity.

As an artist Lear was at first almost entirely self-taught. His earliest employment was as an ornithological draughtsman. Lear also drew landscapes. He eagerly accepted his patrons offer to send him to Rome. Apart from intervals in England, Lear remained abroad for the rest of his life.

Lear's drawings acquired a distinctive character. They capture the contours and colours of a landscape at a particular moment but seldom convey a mood or changes in atmospheric conditions. His response to a scene was sometimes unconventional, often depending on his state of mind or health, but in general he was most inspired by those places where beauty was combined with historical associations.

Lear's immediate purpose was to collect drawings of noteworthy places on which to base oil and watercolour paintings. He began painting in oils in 1838 but found his lack of formal artistic training a grave hindrance. In 1850 he enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools, London, but stayed only a year.

Lear's failures were partly offset by the huge popular success of an entirely different aspect of his talents – his nonsense writings. As a writer and as an artist Lear's talents were best demonstrated when he was most unselfconscious.

Bibliography
Cambridge, MA, Harvard U., Houghton Lib. [MS. diary]

BRIONY LLEWELLYN

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