APPRECIATION OF LEAR AS A PAINTER

THE following note by my brother-in-law, Mr. Henry Strachey, is an artist's endeavour to estimate Lear's position as a painter. C. S.

The landscape painting of Edward Lear has never been popular either with artists or the larger public. The reason of this being so with the latter probably depended both on fashion and the fact that Lear chose to paint foreign countries rather than England. That fellow-painters should have been slow to appreciate Lear's work depended on other reasons. What these were it may be of interest to try to discover. I remember when I was a student at the Slade School, under Legros, I paid a visit to Lear at San Remo, and in talking of art he quoted to me, with complete approval, these words of some friend of his, "Copy the works of the Almighty first and those of Turner next." Now the {xxxvi} great and fundamental quality that lies at the root of the art of Turner is appreciation of atmospheric effect. His preoccupation was not so much what the objects painted were like in themselves, but how they looked when modified by the ever-changing atmosphere. It was the light that fell upon the mountain rather than the shapes of its rocks and slopes that Turner represented. He painted the scene for the sake of the light that fell on it, and not the light as an incident in the landscape. The lines on which landscape painters progressed during the latter half of the last century were on those of light and atmosphere both here and in the great schools of France. But Lear never seems to have had complete sympathy with any aspect of nature except one which showed him the greatest number of topographical details. If he painted the Roman Campagna every sinew in the plain was lovingly recorded, as was every arch of the aqueducts, and even the lumps of the fallen masonry in the foreground. One is sometimes tempted to think that when Lear painted an olive-tree near at hand against the sky he counted the leaves. A traveller could almost plan his route over a pass from one of this artist's faithful realisations of {xxxvii} mountains. To help him portray nature minutely the "topographical artist"—and I remember hearing Lear call himself by this title—wishes for quiet, equal light and weather. For his purpose the shadows of storm clouds are things which blurr and obscure, though for the emotional painter they may turn a commonplace scene into a picture. Lear's interest in landscape was dual: he was both a painter and a traveller. This appears in the letters forming this volume ; indeed, it often seems as if the historic and geographical interest predominated. In saying this it must be remembered that it is much easier to express in words these constituents of a scene than it is a purely æsthetic impression.

If it must be admitted that a large part of Lear's outlook on nature was not purely pictorial, to him must be conceded a very real and true sense of beauty. It is because he could feel the beauty of nature and record it with individuality that his work is valuable, and not because it represents exactly some given piece of country. The labyrinthine valleys of the blue mountains above Thermopylæ, as seen in the picture reproduced in this book, weave patterns of beauty which are independent of historic association. In-{xviii}stances might be multiplied where the artist has got the upper hand of the topographer, and the result has been a picture. Lear painted both in water colour and in oil. It was, however, in the former medium that he was most successful. The delicate drawing and the tendency to use fine lines made the more fluid water colour answer to his hand better than the oil paint. Indeed, he seems never quite happy when working with the latter, and he is always trying to make it behave like the more limpid medium.

Only on the rarest occasions did Lear use the sky except as background. I cannot recall a picture of his in which the motive was essentially a cloud effect. This was partly due, no doubt, to the southern climates in which he painted, with their predominance of blue sky. Also I think the painter's love of the realisation of minute detail made him feel that things which stayed still to be drawn were those which best suited his style.

The love of detailed representation naturally made Lear range himself with the Preraphaelite painters. He, indeed, considered himself one of the brotherhood in the second generation. This is the meaning of his allusion in the letters to Mr. Holman Hunt as his father. I {xxxix} remember his telling me that he looked upon Millais as his artistic uncle.

As a colourist Lear was simple rather than subtle. Straightforward harmonies of blue suited him best. Many exquisitely beautiful water-colour drawings of the blue Apennines overlooking the aqueduct-lined Campagna came from his hand. No one has given better than he has the strange charm of this melancholy landscape. His success in this direction is, I think, due to that delicate sense of style which he possessed and which is needed to interpret such a classic scene. If Lear's pictures cannot rank beside those of the great masters of landscape, the best of his works will always have a real value for those who see beyond the fashion of the moment. This will be so because the artist's work was always dignified and sincere, and he had a true if somewhat formal sense of beauty. Moreover, his style was perfectly individual and distinctive.

H.STRACHEY

NOTE

AMONG the various small details and elucidations which have reached me since the first edition of this book was published, many have been too late to be incorporated in the text of this second impression. I propose, therefore, to condense these into a short postscript to my preface.

Through correspondents both known and unknown many small matters have been cleared up, and I am therefore able thus to make use of their kind help in these pages. Beginning with page xxxii, Lord Tennyson tells me it was always said in the family " that the Villa Emily was called after his mother, Lady Tennyson." This is very probably the case, and possibly in some way indirectly the grand-daughter, if a godchild of Lear's, may have been given the name of one of those he loved best.

At page 6 the Mrs. Sartoris mentioned {i} in Roman society when Lear was painting there in 1848, was not Miss Barrington but her sister-in-law Mrs. Edward Sartoris, the well-known Adelaide Kemble.

Again at page 66, her husband Edward Sartoris, is supposed by a correspondent, to be identified in the drawing companion "Edward, whom Lear misses so terribly at Corfù in 1857.

At page 222, mention is made of "one Luard," who attracts Lear both as a person and by the "thirty lettered" definition of his tastes. Now Major-General C. E. Luard, R.E.

Since interrogatively and humbly naming the plate at page 243 for want of better, as Gozo, Malta, owing to a similarity of "shere rocks" between it and a photogravure given in "The Poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson," illustrated by Lear, I have been informed by an old friend and pupil of Mr. Lear who possesses a sketch of the subject though also unnamed, that to the best of his remembrance he is certain that the scene represents "Korn Ombos, Egypt," painted to illustrate Tennyson's line "the crag that fronts the even, all along the shadowy shore." A correspondent a charming old lady of 81, refers in an interesting letter to the expression "Abercrom-{ii}bically" on page 129. In her young days, she says, Dr. John Abercrombie a great Scotch physician, was the well-known author of "The intellectual Powers," "The Moral Feelings," and "The Culture and Discipline of the Mind." These works had a great vogue at that time, and young ladies were given them to read. She quotes, "How to live and act 'Abercrombically' is best shown on pp. 143 and 144 of the latter work. Dr. Abercrombie chose a high standard, and bade his disciples adhere to it uncompromisingly." Hence when Lear says Woodward preaches "Abercrombically," and Fortescue writes and acts so, they are carrying out the gospel laid down in these books. Consequently on these occasions their actions are full of correctness and decorum of a high order.

With reference to the Greek and its translation on which I had a great deal of correspondence, confusion has been caused by so much of Lear's Greek having been modern Greek. I have had kindly help from many Greek scholars, who have sent me corrections which, in a later edition if such ever sees the light, will quite perfect what now stands as faulty.

Of the more conspicuous mistakes in translation, the following corrections may be {iii} incorporated in this preface. Page 60, "O mighty Krites, Richard son of Cyrus, wishes me to send you greeting," should read, "The mighty judge, Sir Richard Bethell, wishes me to send you his greetings." Again at page 74, note 3 should stand as "The Morier, fat and beautiful," and at page 116, note 4 should read thus, "The day after to-morrow I will come to you before eleven o'clock to greet you—and see with admiration your pictures of Palestine. Fearful must be the ups-and-downs of the Ionian Sea, such brayings I never heard of."

At page 253, note 1 should read, "Let us talk to-morrow at breakfast."

On page 148, Lear writes ...gr... instead of the correct ...gr..., perhaps as a pun on "Colonies."

Lord Sanderson, who was a friend both of the late Lord Derby and Lear, gives me the following interesting version of Lear's introduction to his great patron. The information, which was given to Lord Sanderson by the late Mr. Latter who had been librarian at Knowsley since 1871, and previously employed there he believes from his boyhood was as follows: "Lord Derby said to one of his friends who had been staying at Knowsley {iv} and was going up to London, that he wished to find some young artist who would come down to Knowsley and make paintings of the birds. The friend (I am not sure if I was told the name, but if I was I have forgotten it) promised to make inquiries, and some time afterwards he saw in a print-shop a small water-colour drawing of two birds and a nest, priced at a low sum, which struck him as having considerable merit. He bought the drawing and asked who the artist was. The shopman said it was a young man of the name of Lear, who was extremely poor and made these sketches for his living. The friend sought out Lear, made some further inquiries, and wrote to Lord Derby that he thought he had found a young man who would suit. The result was an invitation to Knowsley and the commencement of Lear's work there—which, however, was intermittent.

Mr. Latter also told me that on the "first occasion of givinig a lesson to The Queen, Lear, who was rather roughly dressed and was always awkward in appearance, went to the door at Osborne and simply said he wished to see The Queen. The servants were a good deal perplexed, but showed him into a room where an equerry came to see him. On {v} his repeating that he had come to see The Queen, the equerry blandly inquired what was the business on which he came, being convinced that he was a lunatic. To which he replied, 'Oh, I'm Lear,' and some further inquiries revealed the fact that he had an appointment to give a lesson."

Mrs. Henry Grenfell also gives me some valuable information as to Lear's introduction at Knowsley. She writes, "I have often heard my husband tell how Lear first got introduced to 'Society' at Knowsley. He (Henry R. Grenfell) lived much at his uncle's, Lord Sefton, at Croxteth close by, and was told the story by the young Stanleys. Old Lord Derby liked to have his grandsons' company after dinner, and one day complained that they constantly left him as soon as dinner was over. Their reply was, 'It is so much more amusing downstairs!' 'Why?' 'Oh, because that young fellow in the steward's room who is drawing the birds for you is such good company, and we like to go and hear him talk.'

"Like a wise man, instead of scolding them, and after full inquiry, he invited Lear to dine upstairs instead of in the steward's room, and not only Lord Derby, but all his friends were equally delighted with him, and it ended in his {vi} being a welcomed guest there and well known to the many visitors at Knowsley who became his friends."

p. vii pict

A short time ago I came across a little plan of visits to be made by Lear before starting {vii} and reaching Rome, by Christmas Day. It is exact and minute, as he always was in all he did, and also proves his "genius" for friendship—typified on page 16 in the following sentence: "I trust to get through 14 or 15 visits out of my 68." It has seemed to me that a reproduction of this "Progress of Lear," in his own handwriting, would be of interest.

I rather think from investigation that the date must refer to the latter end of 1859, and that dilatory-wise Lear getting belated, only arrived as will be seen at page 157, as far as Marseilles by the 26th of December, on his journey Rome-ward.

I would take this opportunity of thanking the public and the reviewers, for the kind way the first edition of this book has been received. My reward is in knowing that the memory of one who was such a delightful and lovable combination of complexities, has had appreciation not only as the author of the Books of Nonsense, but as a man.

"Exceeding wise, fair-spoken, and persuading:
Lofty and sour to them who loved him not;
But to those men that sought him sweet as summer."

{viii}

ERRATA

Page 56. Note i, read The residence of the Earl Roden.

" 59. Dean, read Canon of Wells.

" 127. Note 5, Antonetti read Antonelli.

" 319. For Albania, 1841, read 1852.

For Calabria, 1842, read 1852.

" 328. Vere, Aubrey de, read 128, 209.

" 328. Vere, Major F. H. de, read 228, 257.

" 328. Vere, Mrs. Aubrey de, read Mrs. F. H. de, 257.