- Museum number
Choropiskopos, Corfu; view of valley from above, with grove in foreground and cypresses to left beside road winding through valley beyond, mountains in distance. 1856
Watercolour, with pen and brown ink, with coloured chalks
- Production date
Height: 478 millimetres
Width: 349 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Stainton 1985
Lear is best known for his 'Nonsense' verses, and his illustrations to them which he produced concurrently with his life-long activity as a landscape painter. He was one of the few mid-nineteenth century practitioners of the linear technique of watercolour, which can be seen as a reversion to the 'tinted drawing' manner of a hundred years earlier. At the same time he clearly shared the contemporary view that the finished work should preserve the spontaneity and liveliness of the sketch. Lear's technique was to make a pencil drawing of the motif with written notes of colour and tone, and then to work over the outlines with pen and ink and washes of colour in the winter evenings. Much of his life was spent abroad; in the late 1850s and early 1860s he made several extended visits to Corfu, where he seems to have been particularly attracted by the quality of the light and the wild, luxuriant vegetation. This is a particularly subtle and delicate example of a characteristic composition - a complex spatial recession from a high viewpoint towards a distant ridge or mountains.
The following text is taken from the label for the display at the British Museum 'Watercolours and Drawings by Edward Lear: a Bicentennial Celebration':
Lear found the wild landscape of Corfu particularly beautiful, writing ‘I really think no place on earth can be lovelier than this’. He made the island his base during his travels in the eastern Mediterranean in the 1850s and 1860s. This watercolour is of a valley called ‘Chorepiskopi’, which was sometimes transliterated from Greek as ‘Horoepiskopi’. Lear wrote in his diary: ‘You had better call it Hokus Pokus at once, as all the English do here...The village is on a double rocky hill in the midst of a valley entirely full of splendid orange & cypresses, just as if it were in a basin.’
In this watercolour, the artist has created a sense of transition through the landscape by applying broad interlocking washes of colour in the foreground that gradually merge into the distant hills, which are more delicately drawn in pink chalk and blue ink.
Hubert Congreve, who knew Lear later in his life, described how the artist would ‘lift his spectacles, and gaze for several minutes at the scene through a monocular glass he always carried; then, laying down the glass, and adjusting his spectacles, he would put on paper the view before us, mountain range, villages and foreground, with a rapidity and accuracy that inspired me with awestruck admiration’.
There are several views of Corfu and one of this location, in the Runciman collection in the National Gallery of Scotland.
Lear began to stay regularly in Corfu from 1855, returning most years until 1864 when Britain passed it and the rest of the Ionian islands to Greece. In 1856 he was exploring the island, and a diary entry for 19 June describes Horoepiskopi: ‘Hokus Pokus, then, is a village 14 miles from Corfu (town), & as I wanted to see this north side of the Pantaleone pass, I got leave from Count Voulgari, who has a country house here, to make it my headquarters.’ (P. Sherrard, 'Edward Lear – The Corfu Years', 1988, p.74. Vivien Noakes in ‘The Painter Edward Lear’ (1991;p.66) says ‘at Horoepiskopi he did a number of dramatic and interesting drawings which display a new and technically experimental ingenuity and boldness in his use of watercolour. This was the beginning of a decade which produced Lear’s most accomplished watercolours, an improvement which he himself attributed to the confidence which had grown from his recent experience in the use and handling of oil paint.’ We are grateful to Stephen Duckworth for providing this information.
Lear left most of his watercolours in his will to his friend Sir Franklin Lushington. The collection was bought in 1929 by the dealers, Craddock & Barnard, who donated this one and five others to the British Museum in that year.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1958 Apr, BM, Eight centuries of landscape ... water-colours, case 66
1985, BM, British Landscape Watercolours 1600-1860, no.179
1987 Apr-May, Castle Museum, Norwich, 'The Art of Watercolour', no. 43
1987 May-Jun, Manchester AG, 'The Art of Watercolour', no. 43
1991 Jan-Mar, Cleveland MA, Ohio, BM English Watercolours, no. 86
1991 Mar-June, N Carolina MA, BM English Watercolours, no. 86
2012 May-Jul, BM, P&D, Room 90, 'Edward Lear: a Bicentennial Celebration'
2017 23 Feb-27 Aug, London, BM, G90, Places of the Mind: British Landscape watercolours 1850-1950
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number