Sunday, 17 July 2011
Edward Lear's Grotesque Ornithology, Anti-Colonial Bestiary
Reading Vivien Noakes's biography of nonsense poet and illustrator Edward Lear (1812-1888), I was struck by his fascination with birds.
He earned his living in his early years drawing birds in the Zoological Gardens. His Illustrations of the Family of of Psittacidae, or Parrots, was an example of his early work in 1830-1.
"he did not first kill the animal and draw the gradually decaying carcass; instead he drew the live, moving screaming bird." (Noakes: 30)
"Sitting in the parrot house he was obviously regarded as something of a curiosity himself, for the visitors came and stared at him and his work, and as a change from drawing birds he would make indignant, Doyle-like sketches of the bonneted ladies and startled gentlemen who peered at him." (Noakes: 30)
He was at his best when he was drawing majestic, unpretty birds like ravens and owls; he endowed them with sagacious personalities and it is tempting to wonder if Lear found a common bond with the birds, for they too were at the mercy of unscrupulous men. 'Comme il est charmant ce monsieur avec ses beaux yeux de verre!' a small girl said of him years later. 'Ah, que vos grand lunettes vous donnent tout /a fait l'air d'un grand hibou!'
In another line of enquiry, I recently came across further examples of the bird/human double in several shadow pictures from Japan. Are they examples of a grotesque visual ingenuity? Or simply, and wonderfully, the monstrous art of looking sideways?
Blog No. 10/1000
Edward Lear's Anti-Colonial Bestiary." Victorian Poetry 30.2 (Summer 1992): p109-120.
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) ...
also available on Kindle, or to download.