Lear visited Mount Athos, the ‘Holy Mountain’, on the Halkidiki peninsula of northern Greece, and Lavra monastery (founded by St Athanisios in 963) in the autumn of 1856. Despite the large monastic community welcoming him, he wrote disparagingly of the ‘minced-fish and marmalade masticating Monx [monks]’. His ill temper may be partly a result of the fever he succumbed to during the visit. However, he was able to make drawings of all 20 of the principle monasteries and also the landscape - some 50 sketches in total. Although Lear's plans to publish his drawings of Mount Athos and the surrounding area did not come to fruition, he did produce ten finished oil paintings.
Edward Lear, best known for nonsense verse and limericks, was also a topographical landscape painter, musician, travel writer, ornithological and natural history draughtsman and an illustrator. Largely self-taught as a painter, he began by drawing animals at Knowsley Hall menagerie; later moving to landscape painting. He lived in Italy from 1837 to 1848, returning briefly when Queen Victoria requested twelve drawing lessons. He later studied at the Royal Academy Schools (1850-51). In 1852 he was introduced to William Holman Hunt, whose paintings became a great influence. From the early 1860s, Lear’s reputation as a landscape painter declined, perhaps partly a result of the mass-produced watercolours he made, which he called ‘Tyrants’.
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