Pictures by Edward Lear of Crete
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Diary - 13 April - 'I say I almost would go back to Athens, so disheartened I feel; but good George says laughing that would not do after so much bother and expense. Sitting by the roadside, overlooking the Riza, I drew till nearly nine. Picturesque peasants pass ever, and a few stop, but all are polite .......We then went east of the city and I drew Akrotiri in a small sketch: the colour of the ground and hills is singularly Palermitan - so red and russet yellow.'
Akrotiri, Kanea, 10 a.m. - drawing no.2 - Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence - 17.9 x 38.1 cm
Diary - 15 April - 'The view of Hania is very expressive and characteristic of this place, which is spread out before one; but it wants certain qualities of distant form which can't be given, and only sunset and clouds can make it compose well.'
Diary - 19 April - 'Stoppage in boles, and unwell. Took lots of medicine, yet was able to walk out by seven, when I drew on the road by rox till eight, and then, entering the town, in a cafe gallery till 9.30. Wonderfully incurious people are these.'
The Native Bazaar, Kanea, 9 a.m. - drawing no.22 - Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence - 32.4 x 50.3 cm
Diary - 21 April - ‘The monastery is picturesque, and the Hegoumenos (Abbot) (Gregorios) is polite and pleasant: coffee and sweets as usual, and soon a dish of eggs, olives, caviare and astonishing wine ! At eleven it had cleared more or less, and I and Zeriff and George set out to see the other convent. A rapid rise of the usual stones and herbs led to a wild and narrow pass below great heights of crags – but my boles caused me to stop continually on the way up – reaching Aghios Ioannis at 12.10 ( note: this must be the Gouvernetou monastery). Here we took a Cretan, white-cloaked, to show us the way, and in half an hour by a bad path reached Katholiko: in a most dreary dreadful depth, a ruined hermitage or monastery which must have been of greater importance than its size proclaims (in view of) the great flight of steps and the vast bridge below. Most gloomy scene ! But I could hardly begin to draw it when the rain came, and drove us upward to Aghios Ioannis. Here we waited, arriving at one, till three; thunder and rain meanwhile. An old Hegoumenos was kindly polite. It was impossible to draw, so, setting out at four, we went down to the monastery again.’
Katholiko Monastery, Akrotiri, 1 p.m. - drawing no.25 - private collection - 35.5 x 51 cm
Diary - 22 April - 'Slept perfectly (not one flea!) till a bell sounded, and dog accompanist. At 5.30 rose. It is fine, and the yellowgreen sunlight is pleasant on the vines and fig trees in the meadowland beyond the monastery, and the fields of olive trees. Beyond, the Sphakiot mountains are nearly clear, though grey.'
Diary - 23 April - 'We threaded through ruined villages - what a state they are in! - hardly seeing a soul, to the west of the plain; but then, missing our way, had to work back till we reached the huge olive boles, whence all the plain is seen, a blaze of colour: the yellow-green of the plain and the frittery bright lemon groves, the darker orange, gray olive, red cliffs, lilac hills and blue sea! Nightingales delighted by singing, orioles and hoopoes by showing themselves.'
Diary - 26 April - 'The seashore fronting Aghios Theodhoros: sand, rox, great foaming sea........ Stop to draw till eleven and then pass it, making for the trees and the river...'
Diary - 26 April (later) - 'Few people; almost desert-like plain, but the monastery of Ghonia ('in a corner') is fine in its way, and I draw it. Again, ascending to it, the view of the mountains is really beautiful: the black rocks, and breaking sea. Monastery picturesque-ish, but mostly church, and the priests are in it....... Wander alone above, and find the scene far finer than Schranz gives an idea of.'
Diary - 5 May - '8.30 We are at the Lake of Kourna - very fine and Cumberlandish - in a nook at the foot of very high hills. Draw, and at nine come to trees not far off, leaving the very beastly-forlorn metohi sort of house close to the lake.'
'11.15 Lunch is done: the wrens and titmice still sing - still. Zeriff (Turkish armed servant) hubblebubbles. The four Cretan creturs sleep, and the sun comes over the oak tree I lie beneath so I must move. Very delightful hours .....'
Lake Kourna, 9 a.m. - drawing no.77 - The Gennadius Library, American School of Classical Studies at Athens - 34.5 x 54 cm
Diary - 5 May (later) - 'Episkopi proved to be, like the last, more than half in ruins, and the streets or lanes more filthy, as being fuller of inhabitants, the place being larger, and Turks many. Along very insupportable places, we reach the Doctor's house, which Zeriff proposes to go to, I having no letter: but he is out. A relation however came, fat and in a swell Levantine dress, and he orders things indoors: a large, decent, stone-paved room; divan at one end, three windows on one side, portraits of King and Queen opposite, books and vials at t'other end. All the women sent off; coffee and water and thenceforth, talk. Doctor, master of the house and brother-in-law of fat man, and very deaf, came in. We all went out to see a view, passing very nasty bazaar and then downhill. After that we came back and sat again, and then I washed in public.
Dhrepanos and Akrotiri from Episkopi, 3 p.m. - drawing no.79 - Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence - 13.8 x 22.9 cm.
Diary - 7 May - 'It is now four, and we have come to the end of the walls, and as George is athirst I have sent him in for water. Certainly, a most meagre place is Rethymnon, and what to do tomorrow I know not. Anatolian sheep. Went up the hill partly we ascended last night, and drew till six; and now I have exhausted all the feeble resources of this place, the which is a bore.'
Rethymnon, 6.30 p.m. - drawing no.90 - The Gennadius Library, American School of Classical Studies at Athens - 35 x 55 cm
Diary - 9 May - 'Rose at four, and got all things packed. Coffee by five, and off 5.15, sitting on the ramparts drawing till seven. The lepers at both gates are horrible here.'
Rethymnon, 7 a.m. - drawing no.99 - [MS Typ 55.26 (934)], Houghton Library, Harvard University - 17.3 x 50.5 cm
Diary - 15 May - 'The longer one looks at this place the lovelier it seems. 1.30 I walk to rocks above, just by the town, and find a glorious scene, which is much to say in Crete. A kind of sadness - 'tears, idle tears' - comes over me, so much here reminds me of England, and of other days.'
Agios Thomas, 2 p.m. - drawing no.136 - Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence - 11.6 x 17.1 cm.
Diary - 20 May - 'Rose before four, having slept very tolerably, thanks to lots of flea powder. Up and dressed 4.50. Coffee: see church - oldish (leave 24 piastres) - then draw on the outside. Ida would be lovely, and the whole scene delightful, but clouds stopped all. Then I went up a hill, Gabriel (the abbot) and all the monx too, and drew again, on bits of paper, having put up my large book. Then, at 6.10, we were off. I like Gabriel.'
Arkadhi Monastery - watercolour painted by Lear in 1876 based on the 'bits of paper' drawings he made there on 20 May; the original two 'bits' are at The Gennadius Library in Athens and show the cloudy nature of the weather; in his watercolour Mount Ida has emerged and the clouds have moved on - image copyright Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
Diary - 24 May - 'Never till now have I had much respect for Ida. A dream-like vast pile of pale pink and lilac, with endless gradations and widths of distance, and the long curve of sand from Rethymnon hills to Armyro. So I drew till long after sunset, and then came to this place, where I washed in a cheese plate and sat down with what patience I could.'
Mount Ida from Phre, 7 p.m. - drawing no. 168 - copyright Trustees of the British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, reg.no.1929,0611.65 - 21.5 x 32 cm
Diary - 25 May - 'No sleep all night long, and extreme misery. Resolved therefore finally to go back, the more that I have now one really good view of Mount Ida, and of the valley of Apokorona; and as I perceive the nature of the Sphakian mountains would preclude much possibility of picturesqueness. So I rose from my detestable couch, and again drew Ida from the housetop, and I bought two Sphakian carpets for 500 piastres.'
Psiloritis (Mount Ida) from Phre, before sunrise, 4.30 a.m. - drawing no. 167 - The Gennadius Library, American School of Classical Studies at Athens - 34 x 52 cm.