Garf Harbor, Malta
Garf Harbor, Malta, 1866
Watercolor and gouache applied with brush, ink and pen, and graphite
38.1 x 53.5 cm (15 x 21 1/16 inches)
Anonymous gift 69.154.57
(September 14, 2012 – May 19, 2013)
If you are absolutely alone in the world, and likely to be so, then move about continually and never stand still. —Edward Lear, 1859
Known and loved by generations of children for his limericks and nonsense rhymes, such as The Owl and the Pussycat, Edward Lear was, primarily, a landscape painter. Born in 1812, the twentieth child to parents of little means, an epileptic with no early artistic training, Lear’s humor and talent shaped his extraordinary life, which included a stint as drawing instructor to Queen Victoria and a working friendship with the poet Lord Alfred Tennyson . Lear began his artistic life as an ornithological painter, but at the age of twenty, he dedicated himself solely to landscape painting, finding in it the perfect focal point for his appreciation of nature and his indefatigable wanderlust. His watercolor and oil paintings of these “grisogorious places”—a nonsense phrase of his own invention—to which he traveled became the sole source of Lear’s income until his death in 1888. His journeys to Greece, the Ionian Islands, the Balkans, the Holy Land, Egypt, and India are recorded in scores of diary entries and letters in the voice of a brilliant and self-deprecating humorist.
Lear first left England in 1837 for Rome, where he made his headquarters for several years. In 1848, the outbreak of revolution in Europe compelled him to begin his extensive explorations abroad, mostly undertaken alone or in the company of a friend or servant. Wandering slowly in what he called a “stopping, prying, lingering mode of travel,” Lear would choose his subject and gaze for several minutes at the scene through a monocular glass. He then sketched rapidly with a pencil and made extensive notes about color and content. He recorded the specific location, date, and time on the sketch, which he numbered in numerical order by country. In the evenings, working from his notes, he added color washes and “penned out” the graphite in ink. Lear’s sketches, which form the majority of works on view here, brought him great pleasure, and served as the basis for the studio watercolor paintings he made for reproduction or sale. Although the more finished studio watercolors were critical to Lear’s financial success, he despised making them, calling them “drawings for consumption.”(May 27 –August 14, 2005)
The watercolor medium and landscape subject were auspiciously linked in Britain during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the dynamism generated led to a significant artistic achievement. The RISD Museum has a particularly fine collection of this work, primarily due to the remarkable generosity of an anonymous donor. The first gifts were made in 1969 and have continued to the present. The Museum’s holdings in this area now number over 800 sheets, illustrating nearly all of the practitioners. The innovations of these artists elevated both the landscape subject and the watercolor medium from their former lowly ranking in British Royal Academy’s hierarchy of genres to one of international recognition. Early 18th-century British landscapes were of two types: topographical views, which were recognizable depictions of specific places, and imaginary or idealized views inspired by 17th-century Continental artists in oil such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Over the next century, as artists took an increasing interest in the observation of nature, these traditions expanded in new directions. Topographic watercolors from the mid-18th century were typically drawn in graphite or pen and ink and tinted with color washes, such as those by Thomas Jones and Jonathan Skelton. Others, among them Francis Towne and John”Warwick” Smith, began to experiment with more painterly effects. John Robert Cozens took the expressive possibilities of the medium furthest at this time. His sublime views conveyed his emotional response to nature’s drama and were extremely influential for British landscape artists of the next generation. The early 19th-century Romantics took a close look at nature increasingly included being attentive to the fleeting effects of weather. Watercolor’s luminescence and speed of application allowed artists to capture atmospheric conditions as never before. Working outdoors and quickly to capture changing light effects encouraged spontaneity and invention. With minimal underdrawing, watercolor was directly applied in veils of color washes and loose brushwork, evident in the paintings of David Cox, Peter De Wint, and Richard Parks Bonington. J.M.W. Turner’s late watercolor sketches, with their energetic brushwork, radiant color, and dissolving form, his subjects are barely recognizable.Always on SundayAugust 14, 2:30-3:30 pmAre you interested in learning about British watercolors? Join K. Dian Kriz, Associate Professor, History of Art and Architecture, Brown University, for a gallery talk in the exhibition Luminous Landscapes.
Pezzera, L. Candace. How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear : Watercolors by Edward Lear from Rhode Island Collections. Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design.. 1982.
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. Selection II. Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design.. 1972.
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. A Handbook of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. Providence: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. 1985.