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Edward Lear

2 of 5 portraits of Edward Lear

Edward Lear, by Wilhelm Nicolai Marstrand, 1840 -NPG 3055 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Edward Lear

by Wilhelm Nicolai Marstrand
Pencil on paper lined with modern paper, 1840
7 1/8 in. x 4 3/8 in. (182 mm x 110 mm) overall
NPG 3055


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Inscriptionback to top

Inscr. in pencil lower centre: ‘Edward Lear’;
in pencil bottom left (partly cut off): ‘14 / [...] nel Luglio 1840.’
Old backing sheet (removed to Primary Collection Associated Items plan chest, NPG Archive), with following inscriptions and labels:
(a) inscr. in ink and pencil top centre: ‘Wilhelm Marstrand / Ingenier Rümps / [?..] auction / = Civil-Engineer Rümp’s sale’;
(b) pasted cutting from sale catalogue: ‘265. Portræt af Edward Lear. Bly. 17 x10.’;
(c) inscr. in chalk top left: ‘265’;
(d) inscr. in ink at bottom: ‘Portræt af Edward Lear’;
(e) circular sticker middle right inscr: ‘1128/2.’;
(f) inscr. in chalk bottom left: ‘15’.

This portraitback to top

In about 1836 Edward Lear decided his profession was to be a landscape painter. His patron Edward Smith Stanley, later 13th Earl of Derby, encouraged him and helped fund a long stay abroad. Lear left England in the summer of 1837 and was in Rome by the winter. For the next ten years the city was his base for extensive travels over Italy.

The first years were the happiest and most stimulating of his life; the climate suited his health and he was surrounded by communities of artists of all nationalities. One friendship was with the Danish student Wilhelm Marstrand. They travelled in Umbria and in the summer of 1839 spent a ‘long Civitella sojourn’ together. Lear described him to his sister Ann as ‘thoroughly good and amiable’.[1] Later Lear came to regard that period as a prelapsarian time of undashed aspirations.

In spring 1860 he reminisced in his diary about the days ‘when W. Marstrand & I used to be always together!’[2] And hearing of Marstrand’s death in Copenhagen, in 1873, as he himself was fretfully preparing to board ship for Bombay, Lear wrote in his diary: ‘So: I can never see dear gentle good clean Marstrand more!…He was the F.L. of those days: and I cannot dare to think of them.’[3] Certainly Marstrand’s portrait of Lear expresses a sense of youthful, clear-faced idealism which is without parallel in the iconography.

Wilhelm Nicolai Marstrand (b. Copenhagen), slightly older than Lear, had been in Italy since 1836, and in 1840, the date of the drawing, he was on his way back to Scandinavia; the portrait may have been made to mark the friends’ parting. An artist of the nineteenth-century Danish ‘golden age’, he absorbed the southern light and developed a range of Italian genre subject matter; in 1853 he was appointed director of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

The drawing remained in Denmark until it was offered for sale to the National Portrait Gallery in March 1939 by Mr Aage Marcus of Hørsholm, Denmark,[4] who wrote: ‘In my possession is a portrait-drawing representing the author and painter Edward Lear, autographed by him, and executed in Rome July 1840 by Wilhelm Marstrand, Professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. Marstrand who lived from 1810–1873 is regarded as one of the most prominent Danish portrait-painters; he was a friend of Lear with whom he corresponded during several years. […] I should be glad to know whether the National Portrait Gallery would care to acquire the drawing which – with the scarcity of portraits of Lear in view – should cost 20 gns.’[5] The offer was accepted without hesitation. A hitherto unfamiliar view of Lear, and a work by an artist little represented in England, now entered the public domain.

The drawing seems to have been cut down on the left side. The inscription ‘Edward Lear’ appears to be autograph.

Footnotesback to top

1) Chitty 1988, pp.57–8 n.29.
2) Diary, 7 Apr. 1860, cited Noakes et al. 1985, p.99.
3) Diary, 18 Oct. 1873, cited Noakes et al. 1985, p.99. ‘[Lear’s] closest friendships were with men, and for a time he had a powerful, but unreciprocated, emotional involvement with Franklin Lushington, but beyond this there is no evidence to suggest that he was a homosexual.’ Noakes 2004.
4) Letter from A. Marcus (b. Copenhagen 31 Dec. 1888, d. 16 Aug. 1985), bibliophile and writer on subjects including Japanese and Classical art.
5) Letter from A. Marcus to H.M. Hake, Hørsholm, 12 Mar. 1939, NPG RP 3055.

Physical descriptionback to top

Nearly half-length to left, head turned three-quarters to left, spectacles, small moustache and side whiskers, hair parted on left, shirt and waistcoat, no tie.

Provenanceback to top

The artist; ‘civil-engineer Rümp’; Aage Marcus, by whom sold to the Gallery, June 1939.

Exhibitionsback to top

Edward Lear, Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox Ltd, London, 1968 (130).

Edward Lear 1812–1888, Royal Academy, London, 1985 (16).

How Pleasant to know Mr Lear, Brighton Art Gallery & Museum, 1988–9 (ex-cat.).

Reproductionsback to top

Noakes et al. 1985, p.99.

Levi 1995, no.2.

View all known portraits for Edward Lear