Thursday, 27 October 2011

Edward Lear in Corfu

Edward Lear, talented and troubled, loving and lonely, first lived in Corfu in 1855. The weather was wet, Lear suffered from attacks of epilepsy and depression and for a while could not work at his sketching and painting. When spring made an early appearance and he got to know more people and started selling his drawings, his mood and outlook also improved. He began to explore the island and in a letter to his sister Ann he wrote “The hills are positively an immense crop of geraniums all gold colour - & in the olive woods, the large white heath looks like snow & the pale lilac asphodels in such profusion as to seem like a sort of pale veil over all the ground.”

He was a restless man. His perceptions fluctuated, turning a fresh and expansive outlook into a cold and shrunken territory. But when he travelled, no matter how difficult the journey might be, simply to be in movement released the feeling of impoverishment of the senses and emotions, it lit up the landscape of possibility, like a shaft of sunlight.

In 1848/9 he had travelled through mainland Greece and Albania, sketching and painting. His Journal of a Landscape Painter in Albania makes fascinating reading, in its detailed descriptions of the lives of a people little known to the English speaking world. It is also full of Lear's witty and sometimes self-deprecating comments.

He left Corfu after two years because he wanted to make a journey to the Holy Land, though he returned in 1860 and lived there until 1864 when the British protectorate ended and Corfu and the other Ionian Islands became part of Greece.

The house where he lived in the 1860s was very close to Prosforou, where I lived earlier this year, and a poem about him, and a picture of the house can be found on Catapult to Mars.

Thanks to Corfu blues for the image above of Lear's painting of Paleokastritza, Corfu.

Edward Lear: The Corfu Years - A Chronicle presented through his Letters and Journals

There is also an excellent biography of Lear by Vivien Noakes

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