Friday, December 21, 2018

Edward Lear - Egyptian Sketches, by Jenny Gaschke

Edward Lear - Egyptian Sketches
by Jenny Gaschke
Having finished the biography of Lear, I had another look at this collection published by the National Maritime Museum in 2009, collating sketches from two trips Lear made down the Nile in 1853-4 and 1866-7.

It's a beautiful book, full of beautiful images, presented in sequence according to Lear's own numbering system so we can follow him on his journeys.

As Gaschke tells us, Lear - like many of his contemporaries - was interested in the picturesque and historical, and ignored signs of modernisation such as the new steam-powered boats. Instead, there are lots of sailed boats sitting quietly on the water, serene and bewitching. (I'm glad to see sketches of the dahabeeh he travelled on - the same kind of vessel hired by Marianne Brocklehurst in the 1870s, about which I'm making a documentary.)

Nor does he  depict his travelling companions, and few of the pictures presented here show the famous monuments. Gaschke is good at underlining what makes his images different from those of others, such as the well known lithographs of David Roberts (1796-1864).
"While closely documenting architectural and natural detail, these (published) drawings were also highly appreciated at the time as aesthetic expressions of the sublime, beautiful and picturesque. Roberts laid emphasis on the exotic, the 'oriental' aspects of everyday life in Egypt, with warm lighting and adoption of dramatic viewpoints, for example from far below, to stylise the monumental remains of ancient temples." (p. 20). 
Lear's images, by contrast, often place ruins at a distance, in outline, even partly obscured by foreground "rox" or trees. Without the low viewpoint, they are smaller, part of wider, sand-swept landscape.

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