Edward Lear (London 1812 - San Remo, Italy 1888)

View of Ragusa (Dubrovnik)

inscribed ‘Ragusa / 6. AM- 5th / 9. AM . 6th / 5. PM / May 1866. / (43)’ (lower right)
and extensively inscribed with artist’s notes
watercolour over pencil with pen and brown ink
35 x 53 cm (13 x 21 in)

Provenance: Anonymous sale: Sotheby's, 11 July 1990, lot 138

Executed by Edward Lear on a three month tour of the Adriatic, including Trieste, Dalmatia, Montenegro and Corfu, View of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) brilliantly captures the rugged beauty of the southern Croatian coastline. Historically, the city of Dubrovnik, known as Ragusa in Italian, accumulated great prosperity on account of its extensive maritime trade, and during the Middle Ages grew to rival Venice. As a centre of the development of Croatian literature and the arts, Dubrovnik attracted many native poets, painters and scholars as well as visitors such as George Bernard Shaw, who exclaimed, ‘If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik’.

In Lear’s stunning depiction of the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, golden rays of sunshine glance off the town’s distinctive monuments and fortified walls. The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin and the Church of St. Vlaho figure prominently in the view, as well as the imposing fortresses lying to either side of the old town. While the midground of the composition is bathed in warm tones, the foreground is shaded in varying blues. The drawing is inscribed with artist’s notes and the colouring was most likely added when Lear returned to his studio in May 1866. A work executed two years later, La Piana, in the Chicago Institute of Art, reveals a similar colour scheme, although a greater part of the landscape has fallen into shadow. According to Lear’s notes, La Piana was drawn at six p.m., slightly later in the day than View of Ragusa, Dubrovnik was completed.

Lear, who once described himself as a ‘Greek Topographical Painter par excellence’, with the hopes of being recognised as a ‘Painter-Laureate and Bosh producing-Luminary’,1 was a painter, draughtsman and writer and illustrator of nonsense rhymes. Despite his considerable talents, Lear suffered from insecurity throughout his life, brought on by an epileptic condition, bouts of depression, poverty and weak sight. He was almost entirely self-taught and his earliest employment was in drawing ornithological specimens. He also displayed an aptitude for depicting landscapes, and in 1837 was sponsored on a trip to Rome. Apart from intervals in England, Lear settled for the majority of his life in Europe, being based in Rome, Corfu and finally San Remo, from where he journeyed as far as Egypt, Palestine and India. Lear sketched continuously on his travels, first studying his view through a monocular glass and then setting it aside and rapidly recording the details in pencil. The purpose of Lear’s assiduous sketching was to ‘topographize and typographize all the journeying of my life’,2 which he then was able to work up into watercolours or oils in his studio. In his landscapes, Lear was influenced by Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa but in his taste for the sublime in nature, he shared an artistic vision with Turner. His drawings, which he published in seven volumes, proved more commercially successful than his oil paintings, leading Lear to write in 1869, ‘My life, or rather what I do with the rest of it, must be essentially topographical.’3

1 The Travels of Edward Lear, exhibition catalogue, London, Fine Arts Society, 1983, p. 14
2 Edward Lear, 1912-1888, exhibition catalogue, London, Royal Academy, 1985, p. 197
3 The Travels of Edward Lear, p. 18