Edward Lear (1812-1888) was eighteen when he started work on the illustrations for The Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots. As an ornithological draughtsman, with a talent for striking colors and anatomically correct renderings, Lear found himself taking extended walking trips through Europe. By 1841, his travel had led to an interest in landscape painting and the publication of Views in Rome and its Environs followed by Illustrated Excursions in Italy.
Under the pseudonym of Derry Down Derry, Lear embarked on a separate career as humorist with the publication of A Book of Nonsense. Today, as during his own lifetime, Lear has followers who know his light verse but have no knowledge of his extensive oeuvre in landscape painting.
Lear spent the late fall and winter of 1866/67 traveling through Egypt on camel and boat, sailing down the Nile as far as Wadi Halfa, on the shores of Lake Nasser at the northern border of Sudan. He also visited Gaza and Jerusalem before returning to England. The following winter, Lear spent on the Italian Riviera and at the end of a productive year, composed The Owl and the Pussycat.
Note the lower left, where Lear records not only the date but time of day at which the sketch was made. He drew these wonderfully spontaneous pencil studies on site, leaving the color until later. This was painted in watercolor, following the instructions he wrote directly on the paper concerning hue and tone.
Edward Lear (1812-1888), [Nile scene] near Wady Halfeh [sic], 1867. Watercolor. Robert H. Taylor collection of English and American literature, [1280s]-1950. RTC01, drawer XII.