John Mcewen comments on The Temple of Apollo at Bassae
That Lear was first and foremost a landscape painter is honoured by the inscription on his headstone in the Foce cemetery, San Remo, in Italy: lines taken from his friend tennyson’s poem, To E.L., on His Travels in Greece:
All things fair
With such a pencil, such a pen, You shadow forth to distant men,
I read and felt that I was there. Lear was his parents’ 21st child. his father was Master of the Fruiterers Company, but made bad investments. As today, Londoners found value for money by moving out. Lear was born in the then country village of holloway.
When his father was imprisoned for debt, he was assigned, at the age of four, to his spinster sister Ann, 21 years his senior, who mothered him until her death when Lear was almost 50. She gave him a feminine schooling: drawing, recitation, music. All his life, he was cursed with short sight and twice-weekly epileptic fits.
From 15, he was a professional botanical and zoological artist. It was when documenting Lord Derby’s menagerie at Knowsley that he wrote A Book of Nonsense for the Earl’s children. A visit to the Lake District inspired him to concentrate on landscape painting— a solitary, outdoor occupation that hid his epilepsy and suited his shy, romantic nature. he travelled widely, from Europe to Sri Lanka, finally settling in San Remo.
Lear first visited Bassae, most remote of ancient Greek ruins, in March 1849: ‘I never saw so beautiful a landscape as it forms part of.’ his on-the-spot watercolour-tinted drawings were sometimes reworked later in the studio as oil paintings, as was this view.