Pen and ink with watercolour and bodycolour
13 ⅜ x 19 ½ inches; 340 x 495 mm
Signed, inscribed and dated Edward Lear June 29th 1847 TAORMINA
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Lear travelled by steamer from Naples to Palermo in May 1847 where he was joined by John Proby, an acquaintance who had come to Italy to study painting. They spent the next two months working and travelling in Sicily. They found the island extremely hot, dirty and poor. However, it was a productive trip – starting work every morning before sunrise, walking and drawing until the end of each day. They travelled around the entire island, visiting not only the remains of the Greek theatre at Taormina, but also the temple of Hera at Segesta, and the six temples at Agrigento.
He had previously visited Sicily in the spring of 1842 and made a drawing in pencil and grey wash of the theatre at Taormina. In a letter to his patron, the 13th Earl of Derby, dated 5th June 1842, Lear writes: ‘Taormina – (the old Taurominium) was our next halting place… This city is very interesting from its containing the most perfect remains of a Greek theatre now extant: It looks towards Etna, & the view thence – looking down nearly all the east and the S. East coast of Sicily is truly astonishing.’
In his Pictures from Sicily published in 1853, W. H. Bartlett describes Taormina: ‘The theatre is situated in a hollow of the mountain, and is semicircular in form. Great part of the scena appears in the view, with several Corinthian pillars, which have lately been restored to their original position by the zeal of the Duke of Serra-di-falco, one of the greatest ornaments in Sicily, and among her exiled patriots. In front is the space for the proscenium and orchestra. The seats for the spectators are gone. The top was surrounded by a wall and corridor supported on columns, one or two of which are still standing; and so perfect was the conveyance of sound, that words uttered even in a low voice on the proscenium are distinctly heard at the top. The chambers on each side the stage were probably devoted to actors, and a passage runs under it, supposed to have been intended for the prompter. The building, originally erected by the Greeks, was afterwards restored and modified by Roman taste.’ (pp. 86-7)
After he left Sicily, Lear travelled to southern Calabria where he witnessed outbreaks of the Italian revolution. As the situation became increasingly unsettled, he set sail for Corfu and the Ionian Islands, via Malta, in the spring of 1848.