Friday, February 20, 2009

Edward Lear

One of Edward Gorey's artistic inspirations was British artist/writer/illustrator Edward Lear. Mr. Lear (1812 - 1888) was the youngest of 21 children, and because his father could not support his offspring, young Edward went to live with his older sister Anne. As a way to help support the family, he began his career drawing and painting with his first published illustrations appearing in 1830 (at the age of 19). He received critical acclaim for his paintings, and was successful enough to have briefly given Queen Victoria drawing lessons in 1846.

Never a healthy man, Lear was afflicted by poor eyesight, epilepsy, bronchitis, asthma, and suffered from what he referred to as "the Morbids" (severe depression). Despite these conditions, Lear produced illustrated books of nonsense verse that amused his contemporaries and still entertain children and adults today. Loosely working within the limerick format, his verse delights as much in the sounds of words as it does for its content. Lear was a cat lover who outlived his cherished feline companion Foss by two months.

Edward Lear's most famous nonsense poem is The Owl and the Pussycat, but Edward Gorey chose to illustrate Lear's The Jumblies and The Dong with the Luminous Nose. The Gorey illustrated The Jumblies was published in 1968 by Young Scott Books, New York. In this volume, Mr. Gorey pays homage to his forbearer with exquisite illustrations and hand lettered text. The work is lovingly rendered and given the kind of artistic treatment Gorey usually reserved for his own works.

In 1969, again with Young Scott Books, Mr. Gorey illustrated Mr. Lear. The Dong with the Luminous Nose is also given V.I.P. treatment by Gorey. While I personally like this book less than its predecessor, the two volumes make a lovely set.

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