Edward Lear

Edward Lear:
The Corfu Years

A Chronicle presented through his Letters and Journals

Edited by Philip Sherrard

Edward Lear first visited Corfu in 1848 and the island seems then to have made a deep impression on him. At all events, he returned in 1855, after further travels in Greece, Albania, Egypt and elsewhere, and for the next years Corfu was to provide him with the nearest he got to a winter base until, in 1870, he finally settled at San Remo.

Lear's Corfu years coincide with the last years of the British Protectorate (the Ionian Islands were ceded to Greece in 1864), and his letters and journals written on Corfu, from which the text of this book is composed, form a commentary, as unique as it is biting and poignant, on the modes, manners and mentality of a mid-nineteenth century British colonial and garrison society. They also present a deeply moving account of an artist battling with his solitude and relentlessly pursuing his vocation in a world with whose values he is so much at odds.

Set over against this is the incredible natural beauty of the island itself, a beauty to which Lear responds with his whole being and of which he gives us testimony both in his writings and the many water-colours and sketches that accompany the text. An Introduction outlines the historical and social background of Lear's Corfu world, and offers a portrait of Lear himself, while an Appendix assesses his achievement as a landscape painter.

‘. . . beautiful and sensitively-handled study . . . Dr Sherrard’s thought-provoking introduction places Lear in the context of his time. In 19th century English society, as now, “poetry and art were virtually the last considerations”, yet for Lear they were among the first. This, and his profound understanding of natural beauty not only forced him outside the society in which he lived and upon which he depended, but also afforded him “glimpses of some almost unattainable or impossible happiness and perfection” with the attendant possibility of distress, “a cosmic melancholia”. . . . Equally fascinating is Dr Sherrard’s analysis of the contrary philosophies which guided the painting of Lear’s day and his response to these.’

Vivien Noakes in The Telegraph.

‘Spaciously conceived and beautifully illustrated . . . one gets from The Corfu Years a very good impression of expatriate British social life, which Lear often found wearisome but nevertheless needed to cultivate for commissions and gallery sales that were so difficult to nudge. Against the “frittery evenings’ with the “Gonfiati” (or local swells) there were — when health permitted — long sketching excursions into the rural fastnesses of Corfu, recorded in his diary as an aide-memoire for published travel journals. The detail is fascinating . . .’.

Alan Bell in The Spectator.

  • 248 pages, 29.0 x 21.5 cm, 24 tipped-in colour plates and 84 black and white illustrations, sewn pages, 1988

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