This is one of four oil paintings of Jerusalem painted in the immediate aftermath of Lear’s visit there in 1858. It has rarely been on public display. Its south-east viewpoint differs from the north-east position from which the three others were taken. These three were made for Lady Waldegrave (Christie’s, London, 29 July 1977, lot 174); Sir James Reid (Christie’s, New York, 26 January 2011, lot 61) and Bernard Husey-Hunt (Strachey, op. cit., 1907, nos. 148, 149, 152). Some years later, in 1865, a commission from Samuel Price Edwards resulted in the largest of his paintings of Jerusalem (Strachey, op. cit., 1907, no. 218; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).
Jerusalem, with its powerful biblical associations, was the goal of many artist-travellers to the Near East in the 19th century. Edward Lear, aware of the particular veneration in which the city was held, wrote as early as 1848 of his desire to visit it: ‘How I wish someone would pay my way to Palestine; I should like to see Jerusalem of all things’. After two earlier attempts had failed, his journey was eventually enabled by a commission from Lady Waldegrave, one of the most loyal of his patrons. He reached the city on 27 March 1858, and the next day, Palm Sunday, explored the country immediately outside the walls: ‘We crossed the Kidron & and went up the Mount of Olives – every step bringing fresh beauty to the city uprising behind’ (Lear’s Diary, 28 March 1858, cited in V. Noakes, 1985, p. 149). The city was crowded with Easter pilgrims however – ‘the universal hubbub throughout the place prevents any quiet plan or reasoning’ (Letter to Ann, 30 March 1858, cited in V. Noakes, Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer, London, 1979, p. 155) - and he decided to continue his journey south to Petra.
Returning to Jerusalem on 20 April, Lear set about gathering sketches for Lady Waldegrave’s painting, bewildered by the ‘endless histories & poetries’ that the landscape evoked. He had difficulty finding a suitable position outside the city from which to make his sketches but eventually ‘stumbled on an oblique North-East view’. He pitched his tent on the Mount of Olives and spent a fortnight studying every detail of the view, also obtaining photographs to use for later reference. Such painstaking attention to detail emulated the efforts and some of the Pre-Raphaelite methods of his friends William Holman Hunt and Thomas Seddon who, four years earlier, had spent several months camped outside the city.
From this point, as he explained to Lady Waldegrave, could be seen ‘the site of the temple & the 2 domes, - and it shews the ravine of the valley of Jehoshaphat, on which the city looks: - and Absalom’s pillar – (- if so be it is his pillar - ) the village of Siloam, part of Aceldama, & Gethsemane are all included in the landscape. … add to all of which there is an unlimited foreground of figs, olives, & pomegranates, not to speak of goats, sheep & huming beings …’ (Noakes, 1988, p. 151). Although some way further to the South, the present view includes many of the same features, but by placing particular emphasis on the fig-tree and goats in the foreground, Lear enhances its interest. Its lower and closer viewpoint also enables parts of the city to be seen with greater clarity. The contrast between local detail and the wider landscape is further emphasised by the soft afternoon light, throwing the rocky terrain of the foreground into relief against the valley and the city beyond.
Lear took great pains with both this and the commission for Lady Waldegrave, and was rewarded by the appreciation of his patrons, writing later to his friend Chichester Fortescue (soon to be Lady Waldegrave’s husband): ‘I delight in the knowledge of Lord & Lady Clermont constantly enjoying my pictures: - they are a placid duck-like couple…’ (16 February 1862, Strachey, op. cit., 1907, p.227). Thomas Fortescue, 1st Baron Clermont (1815-1887) was Chichester Fortescue’s elder brother, and owned three further paintings by Lear.
We are grateful to Briony Llewellyn for providing this catalogue entry.
Please refer to the online catalogue at www.christies.com for a photograph of the picture post-restoration.