Edward Lear and the Art of Travel

Most accounts of the artistic achievements of Edward Lear (1812–1888) take as their starting point the notion that he is better known as the writer of nonsense verse than as a topographical draughtsman and painter. His art is then considered largely in isolation, as the extraordinary creation of a fascinatingly eccentric Victorian. This exhibition, however, situated Lear’s work as an artist within the great outpouring of images of foreign lands produced by British artists in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Although Lear suffered from epilepsy, asthma, poor eyesight, and chronic depression, he was an inveterate traveler and an indefatigable sketcher, documenting a lifetime of journeys throughout the Mediterranean and India.

In 1997, Donald C. Gallup, alumnus of Yale and former Curator of American literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, gave his collection of Edward Lear’s art to the Center. Drawing from this generous gift as well as the Paul Mellon Collection and other gifts, this exhibition featured 114 drawings, twelve paintings, and six books by Lear. Also on display were over sixty works by thirty other artists, including J. M. W. Turner, Richard Parkes Bonington, David Roberts, and John Frederick Lewis.


Edward Lear and the Art of Travel was organized by Scott Wilcox, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Center. An illustrated catalogue accompanied the exhibition and received an honorable mention in the year’s American Association of Museums’ publications competition.

Top image
Edward Lear, The Forest of Valdoniello, Corsica (detail), 1869, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection