Lear first went to Florence in 1839. He travelled to the city for a second time in the summer of 1861 to make a painting for one of his most consistent patrons, Frances, Lady Waldegrave (later Frances Fortescue). On 28 June 1861, he visited the Villa San Firenze on the outskirts of Florence. From here he sketched the city and, as he later recorded in his diary, ‘drew cypresses between showers of rain’. This work was painted in the following year for Sir Thomas Fairbairn from drawings made on that day. It is one of three landscapes that Fairbairn commissioned from Lear.
During Lear’s 1861 visit to Florence he wrote to his friend William Holman Hunt:
‘Plumpudding - treacle, weddingcake, sugar, barleysugar, sugar candy, raisins & peppermint drops would not make a more luscious mixture in the culinary world, than Florence & its Val d’Arno does as Landscape’.
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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