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IIIF Actions
Edward Lear, 1812–1888
Philae, Egypt
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
10 13/16 x 21 inches (27.5 x 53.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
buildings | island | landscape | mountains | river | rocks (landforms)
Associated Places:
Africa | Egypt | Nile | Philae | Temple of Isis
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

Edward Lear, a prolific artist, author, and poet, traveled throughout the Mediterranean, the Near East, and South Asia during the course of his long career. In 1853 he made a second trip to Egypt and completed this painting of the ancient Temple of Isis, visible across the Nile, in London almost nine years after returning home. He was struck by the ruins of several temples on Philae and declared it “more like a real fairy island than anything else I can compare it to.” Lear made copious sketches of such views while on tour, capturing scenes on the spot in his sketchbooks and then working them up with pen and ink and watercolor back in the studio. These enhanced sketches were shown to potential patrons in the hope of generating commissions for larger-scale versions in watercolor or oil.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

Best known as a writer of nonsense verse, Edward Lear was also an accomplished landscape painter. He first began to travel due to his ill heath: he suffered from asthma and bronchitis, as well as epilepsy. Lear first visited the Middle East in 1849 and returned with the aim of establishing himself as a painter of remote and unusual places. Up to this point he had been self-taught; in 1852 he met the Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt, who was to have a profound effect on his art. Hunt’s influence can be clearly seen in this view of Philae, with its inclusion of mauves, pinks, oranges, and bright, vibrant greens.

According to legend Philae was the burial-place of the Egyptian god Osiris and was held in high reverence both by Egyptians to the north and Ethiopians to the south. It was reported by the Roman writer Seneca that neither birds flew over it nor fish approached its shores. The monuments of the island complex span the time period from the Pharaohs to the Caesars. Philae was a favorite site for Lear; he produced at least twenty oil paintings of the island.

Gallery label for Lure of the East - British Orientalist Painting (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-02-07 - 2008-04-28)

Echoes of Egypt: Conjuring the Land of the Pharaohs (Yale Peabody Museum, 2013-04-13 - 2014-01-04) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Connections (Yale Center for British Art, 2011-05-26 - 2011-09-11) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Edward Lear and the Art of Travel (Yale Center for British Art, 2000-09-20 - 2001-01-14) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Egypt - The Legacy (Sarah Lawrence College Art Gallery, 1990-02-13 - 1990-04-22) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 144-145, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Colleen Manassa, Echoes of Egypt, conjuring the land of the pharaohs, an exhibition at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, April 13, 2013 through January 4, 2014 , Yale Peabody Museum, 2013, p. vi, DT61 .E31 2013 (YCBA) [YCBA]

The lure of the east : British Orientalist painting: wall labels, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2008, p.[ 87], V 2577 (YCBA) V 2577 [YCBA]

The lure of the East, British orientalist painting, 1830-1925 , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2008, pp. 14, 16, V 1879 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Edward Lear and the art of travel, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2000, p. 78, no. 57, NJ18 L455 W55 2000 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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