Edward Lear (1812–88)

English painter

English painter and poet Edward Lear is best known for his nonsense literature, most famously The Owl and the Pussycat (1867), but he began his career as a natural history illustrator. Specialising in ornithological illustration, Lear was first contracted by the Zoological Society of London but was later hired by Edward Smith Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby (1775–1851) in the 1830s to paint the rarer species in his menagerie, which was one of the largest in the world at that time. Produced as Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall (1846), a limited edition publication, a copy of this rare folio sits in the Linnean Society’s library. The skins of many of the original subjects are held at the Liverpool Museum. Lear was not as keen on illustrating mammals as he was on birds, but produced stunning images of both nonetheless.

One of his most renowned publications was his beautiful monograph, Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots published in parts in 1830 at the relatively tender age of 19. Considered a fantastic blend of artistic merit and scientific study, the Society holds a copy of the first edition. It was well received and placed the young Lear in the same category as respected illustrators like John James Audubon and John Gould. Lear is widely regarded as one of the finest natural history illustrators of the 19th century.