VIEW OF RAGUSA, DUBROVNIK
Anonymous sale in Sotheby’s Rooms, 11 July 1990, lot 138
Private Collection, UK
Executed by Edward Lear on a three month tour of the Adriatic, including Trieste, Dalmatia, Montenegro and Corfu, View of Ragusa, Dubrovnik brilliantly captures the rugged beauty of the southern Croatian coastline. Historically, the city of Dubrovnik, known as Ragusa in Italian, accumulated great prosperity on account of its extensive maritime trade, and during the Middle Ages grew to rival Venice. As a centre of the development of Croatian literature and the arts, Dubrovnik attracted many native poets, painters and scholars as well as visitors such as George Bernard Shaw, who exclaimed, ‘If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik’. In Lear’s stunning depiction of the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, golden rays of sunshine glance off the town’s distinctive monuments and fortified walls. The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin and the Church of St. Vlaho, figure prominently in the view, as well as the imposing fortresses lying to either side of the old town. While the midground of the composition is bathed in warm tones, the foreground is shaded in varying blues. The drawing is inscribed with artist’s notes and the colouring was most likely added when Lear returned to his studio in May 1866. A work executed two years later, La Piana, in the Chicago Institute of Art, reveals a similar colour scheme, although a greater part of the landscape has fallen into shadow. According to Lear’s notes, La Piana was drawn at six p.m., slightly later in the day than View of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) was completed.
Lear, who once described himself as a ‘Greek Topographical Painter par excellence’, with the hopes of being recognised as a ‘Painter-Laureate and Boshproducing-Luminary’, was a painter, draughtsman and writer and illustrator of nonsense rhymes. Despite his considerable talents, Lear suffered from insecurity throughout his life, brought on by an epileptic condition, bouts of depression, poverty and weak sight. He was almost entirely self-taught and his earliest employment was in drawing ornithological specimens. He also displayed an aptitude for depicting landscapes, and in 1837 was sponsored on a trip to Rome. Apart from intervals in England, Lear settled for the majority of his life in Europe, being based in Rome, Corfu and finally San Remo, from where he journeyed as far as Egypt, Palestine and India.