Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Edward Lear and his contemporaries

5 February, 2013 - 14:36 -- John Burton
Edward Lear and his contemporaries

There is currently an exhibition of Edward Lear prints on display in World Land Trust (WLT) gallery. Alongside works by Lear are prints by his contemporaries, and it is interesting to note the curiously overlapping nature of wildlife illustrators working in the mid to late 19th century.

Lear was a contemporary of John Gould, for example, and he provided many illustrations for Gould’s magnificent folios. In fact, while most are signed by Lear, John Gould also signed some of them, despite them being very obviously done by Lear. 

Some of Lear’s finest illustration are the owls and pelican for Gould’s Birds of Europe, and the Toucans for the Monograph of the Ramphastidae Toucans. These and other large format lithographs of Lear were collected by Sir David Attenborough, WLT Patron, and published as a facsimile volume in 2012.

Francis Orpen Morris’s A History of British Birds was published monthly in parts from 1850 to 1857 and the Eagle Owl is clearly a copy of Lear’s magnificent portrait in Gould’s European Birds. The image is reversed, as that is what happens with engravings and lithographic printing: the image drawn is reversed when printed.

Other contemporaries of Lear include John James Audubon and only slightly older was Alexander Wilson.

The main difference between Lear's and Audubon’s illustrations is that Lear actually drew the lithographs himself, and coloured them, while Audubon employed Havell to engrave them.

On the large format involved, engraving has a stiffness that lithography can overcome with a considerable degree of fluidity in the drawing.

Nonetheless, most of Lear’s small works are engraved. The problem with lithography is that relatively few prints can be made, whereas engravings can be mass produced. This was essential as Jardine’s Naturalist Library was a relatively cheap publication and printed in large numbers.

Further information

  • The exhibition of Lear & his contemporaries is on display in World Land Trust (WLT) gallery until 15 February 2013
  • World Land Trust is running a limerick competition in parallel with the exhibition of Lear prints. The closing date for entries is noon on 5 April 2013

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