Author(s): Robert McCracken Peck
Before he became celebrated as the writer and illustrator of nonsense poetry, Edward Lear was a prolific painter of natural history subjects who earned near-universal praise for the accuracy, originality and elegant style of his animated depictions of birds and other wildlife. His best remembered scientific contribution is his magnificent monograph on parrots, the first English natural history book to focus on a single family of birds, which he began to publish when he was just 18. His depictions of "species hitherto unfigured" of that gaudy group of birds dazzled the world and established Lear as the artist of choice for many of the leading ornithological publishers. In that golden age of colour-plate books, an era still celebrated for the great volumes created by John James Audubon and John Gould, Lear created some of the most spectacular natural history illustrations ever published. He did so without the benefit of any formal training in art, and with neither independent funding nor institutional support.The original watercolours for his scientific paintings - many reproduced here for the first time - confirm Lear's place among the greatest natural history painters of all time.
Robert McCracken Peck, curator of art and artefacts and senior fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, is a writer, naturalist, and historian who has travelled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. He has written numerous books on the subject of natural history, and has also written for newspapers and a wide range of popular and scholarly publications.