Harry’s advent calendar of paintings, day 21: Lear

Despite being a birdwatcher, I’m not actually a huge fan of bird paintings. Or at least not a certain kind of bird paintings done by the certain kind of wildlife artist. Ducks huddling against the cold in the dawn light, that sort of thing.

They tend to be a bit chocolate-boxy, or a bit over-precise… whatever it is, they usually leave me unmoved. The artist’s passion for birds somehow doesn’t make for great art.

The works I’m more drawn to are those which were not intended to be hung on a wall, but to go in a scientific monograph, or a field guide. What you might call bird illustration, rather than bird art; paintings done primarily with an analytical rather than an aesthetic eye. I find them more compelling than those bird paintings which try harder to be Art.

That tradition includes Thomas Bewick, Audubon, John Gould, and today’s artist, Edward Lear. And yes, it is the same man who wrote The Owl and the Pussycat and The Dong with the Luminous Nose. His eyesight deteriorated early and forced a change of carer, but as a young man he was a very fine natural history illustrator.

I picked this picture, a study of a Scarlet Macaw, partially because it is rather lovely, with the bird peering over its shoulder among the blobs of paint. But mainly, I have to admit, because most of the works by Lear on the internet are actually lithographs, and I am too much of a pedant at heart to post a lithograph to a series calling itself an ‘advent calendar of paintings’. You can see the finished print here, if you’re curious.

This is one of the lithographs, of a Pale-headed Parakeet.

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