Born twentieth of twenty-one children of a London stockbroker who fell defaulter in the financial crash, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, Edward Lear, in the break-up of the family home, was looked after by his much-senior sister Ann. Ignored by his parents, victim of epileptic attacks which were to bedevil him all his life, asthmatic, the child withdrew into emotional isolation.
Lear left England in 1837 and became a wanderer for the rest of his life. For the first few years, however, he made Rome his main base. After publishing three albums of Italian views in 1841 and 1846, he began to explore countries off the beaten track, the Ionian islands and the Greek mainland
In particular, Lear found Corfu "really a paradise", while many other countries were said to drive him "nearly mad from sheer beauty and wonder".
Lear possessed a wild enthusiasm for the extraordinary landscapes he encountered during his wanderings, which, with his sharp eye for the quirks and curiosities of his fellow men, and his remarkable and original talent as a landscape painter, inspired his marvellously fresh and expressive watercolours and drawings that, uninhibited and deeply imbued with poetry, convey something of these passionate feelings to us.