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The Natural History of Edward Lear

Macaw illustration by Edward Lear

July 23, 2012

Although he is best remembered today as a whimsical nonsense poet, adventurous traveler, and painter of luminous landscapes, Edward Lear(1812–1888) is revered in scientific circles as one of the greatest natural history painters of all time. During his brief immersion in the world of science, he created a body of work that continues to inform, delight, and astonish us with its remarkable blend of scientific rigor and artistic finesse.

Harvard University’s Houghton Library holds the largest and most complete collection of Edward Lear’s original paintings in the world.  Among the thousands of items in this collection are some two hundred sketches, studies, and finished paintings devoted to natural history. In commemoration of the bicentennial of Lear’s birth, the library is hosting an exhibition of Lear’s natural history paintings, the first devoted to this important aspect of his career.

An internationally recognized expert on Lear and his natural history painting, Robert McCracken Peck, Senior Fellow at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University served as the guest curator for this exhibition.  He also wrote an article on the subject for the international science journal Nature. Find out more about The Natural History of Edward Lear exhibition.