Bird Illustrations by Edward Lear

Edward Lear was a 19th century English author and poet, renowned today primarily for his literary nonsense, in poetry and prose, and especially his limericks, a form that he popularised. His literary work include the nonsense poem The Owl and the Pussycat, and a volume of limericks called A Book of Nonsense. Less known was the fact that he began his professional life as an artist and illustrator of birds.

The 19th century was a time of great discovery for birds, with lavish expeditions to parts unknown to the western world to collect specimens. Many of such bird specimens arrive in the great museums of the day, ready to be classified and illustrated. It was also a time when these very illustrations were compiled and published as volumes for sale. Advances in lithography made mass reproduction of such colour illustrations possible, although at a high price. Edward Lear was one of those artist that excelled in this art form.

A few illustrations from his collaborative work with John Gould, the ornithologist and artist on the monograph entitled “Birds of Europe” is reproduced below. This is limited to the raptors and except for one drawing, all these birds have been sighted in Singapore before. The original book is from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and the digital copy is available at Biodiversity Heritage Library.

 

Video

Above is a video featuring David Attenborough on the bird illustrations done by Edward Lear.

 

Photo Gallery

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