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Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense
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Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  85 ratings  ·  28 reviews
Acclaimed historian Jenny Uglow brings us a fascinating and beautifully illustrated biography of Edward Lear, full of the colour of the age.

Edward Lear lived a vivid, fascinating, energetic life, but confessed, 'I hardly enjoy any one thing on earth while it is present.' He was a man in a hurry, 'running about on railroads' from London to country estates and boarding steam
Hardcover, 608 pages
Published October 5th 2017 by Faber & Faber
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4.35  · 
Rating details
 ·  85 ratings  ·  28 reviews

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Michael Perkins
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I only knew Edward Lear for his nonsense rhymes, which we recited to our children when they were small. They giggled constantly. But it turns out that Lear was an accomplished painter, as well. His subjects were landscapes, birds, and other animals. He traveled extensively in pursuit of his live subjects, although not in the wild but in aviaries and zoos.

Lear had many friends, as well as a large social set. He was a popular guest because of his humor and his musical talents. Paradoxically, howe
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading “Mr. Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense”. It is a beautiful book that has lavish illustrations and quotations. This book would make a great holiday gift.

Edward Lear (1812-1888) is best known for his nonsense rhymes, written primarily for children but with an appeal across all ages. Some of his better-known works are: “The Owl and the Pussycat”, “A Was Once an Apple Pie”.

Lear was a seeker and taxonomist, observing and recording plants and foreign vistas as he travelled widel
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Hope my earlier notes will be saved as private, but I am at a loss when I don't have highlighting available with kindle format. I borrowed this book from my library. It is a beautiful $45 book, and if one admires Edward Lear, it would be a great reference book to own. The writer does a very thorough and excellent job without including negative viewpoints of Lear's work.
It is a happy/sad but thoroughly detailed account of Edward's young life through to the end. A restless and complex man, he liv
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Just a brilliant bio of my favorite Victorian writer/illustrator. The language, the images, will
make you laugh. The life story will make you cry - and applaud.
Daniel Sevitt
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: auto-biography
Bought this because of the good reviews and the absolutely gorgeous presentation. It's a beautiful book to hold and flick through with lots of illustrations and reproductions. As a biography, it's about as straightforward a history of a life as it's possible to imagine. That's not necessarily a criticism, but, as with any life, there are longueurs and repetitions. The analysis of Lear's nonsense is deft and illuminating (like the Dong's nose) and probably the best thing here. Mostly, though, I j ...more
Peter Tillman
Apr 26, 2018 marked it as to-read
Adam Gopnik's wonderful review-essay at the New Yorker. Check out the opening illo: Lear & his cat!

"We find, in Lear, the immersive, overstuffed feel common to all Victoriana—and here is Victoria herself, getting a drawing lesson from him. Because Lear was lodged far more securely in Victorian society than the donnish Carroll was, his art mirrors and parodies it more precisely. Carroll was making jokes about Oxford; Lear about London and the world."

Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Most of us know Edward Lear as the writer of nonsense verse. “The Owl and the Pussycat” is the first poem I ever learned by heart and even though I learned a few more in years closer to now than then I still remember more of it than I do of any of the others. But in his lifetime Lear was known for other things first. As a teenager and young man he became England’s Audubon, doing brilliant paintings of birds and other wildlife for zoos and wealthy patrons with private zoos and from stuffed exotic ...more
Colin Mitchell
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mr Lear by Jenny Uglow.
It is difficult to say much more than this is the best book that I have read this year. 5 stars.
Stumbled across this on the New Books shelf at one of my public library's branches while there for a meeting. I knew next to nothing about Edward Lear, certainly not as an artist. Such an excellent example of biography!

Uglow traces Lear's life, mostly chronologically, from his middle-class upbringing in London fraught with family economic misfortunes and rather distant parents, to his life as a traveling artist and writer. Best known for his nonsense poetry (The Owl and the Pussycat) and limeric
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Mr Lear is a beautiful and lavishly presented book. The hard cover is stunning with a picture of one of Lear’s parrots and the title “Mr Lear” in gold. The pages of the book contain many colour plates of Lear’s art together with reproductions of his letters and cartoons.
Jenny Uglow has written a magnificent detailed and comprehensive biography of Edward Lear drawing on his correspondence with his vast network of friends, relations and patrons. Uglow tells us of his friendships with Lord Derby, t
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was fun—lots to Edward Lear besides his limericks, as it turns out, and Uglow is such a solid biographer she really brings the times and circumstances into vivid focus. Ah, for the life of an itinerant mid-19th-century artist! Lear traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia to paint and write and read, hung out with English peers and the likes of Alfred Tennyson, mooned over being alone but threw himself into his work with fervor, and had an enormous social circle. The book is long and ...more
Gayla Bassham
A sad and lovely biography, with a couple of side characters (his manservant Giorgio and his friend and sometime sweetheart Gussie) whose lives could be O'Henry stories in and of themselves. Lear is best known for his brilliant nonsense such as "The Owl and the Pussycat" but his life as a gay man in Victorian England seems to have been lonely and frustrating. Like so many beloved creators, his life, is his own eyes, was not quite fulfilling.

The biography isn't perfectly paced -- six hundred pag
i loved this book. It is printed on very good paper and has wonderful reproductions of his paintings. I had no idea he was so good as a landscape painter, let alone that he gave lessons to Queen Victoria.
I was not surprised by the sadness and loss in his life, as seems to be common with many artists and writers of his day. (Tennyson, e.g.)
I was caught up in the nonsense and the fun cartoons as well. Really a very enjoyable read.
What a prodigious output Lear made in his lifetime of creating thousands of artworks: drawings, paintings, etchings; and writing poems, songs, and all manner of nonsense. He also wrote dozens of letters a day.

As a young boy, his parents left him in the care of his kind oldest sister, Anne, because they were too occupied with the other dozen or so surviving children of their brood. However, their finances were rocky, so young Edward learned to make his living in his teens, working for Gould, a ta
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is by far the best biography I have ever read, and considering I have read many, that is high praise. I had read Levi's biography many years ago and I hardly remember anything, it left such a weak impression. What I do remember is finding it a boring book and being a bit disappointed, considering how much I love Lear.

Uglow's writing, by contrast, is like reading a good novel—e.g. you keep on hoping Lear will marry Gussie even though you know he won't in the end. Uglow brings Lear to life a
Jun 19, 2018 rated it liked it
I read this on a whim, after reading a short review in the New Yorker. My interest wasn’t intense but it is a well-written and absorbing study. What tickled my interest was that although he is best known today for his nonsense books, his main claim to fame in his own time was as a superb landscape painter and travel writer. You get a strong, sometimes intimate sense of him throughout the book. Enjoyable.
Shelly Dennison
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Jenny Uglow really does have the knack of producing fascinating comprehensive readable biographies! This is a beautifully illustrated and produced account of Lear's life - I was aware of him as a nonsense poet so the big eye opener for me was his career as an artist from the observational work with birds and animals to landscapes in Europe and beyond.
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bios, art
Excellent treatment of an artist more renown for his limericks than his paintings. A bit slow going as Lear tries to settle on a career and a home. The strange and sad life of a man who repressed his sexuality and wandered through much of Europe, Middle East and India, painting and drawing everything. I enjoyed learning about life in Edwardian-Victorian England.
Laura Spira
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the most beautiful book I have read for a long time, which certainly does justice to the work of the subject, wonderfully reproduced. But it is very heavy... Meticulously researched, Jenny Uglow also infuses the text with her own enthusiasm for Lear, producing an excellent and sympathetic portrait. Highly recommended to fans of Lear and anyone who relishes fine biography.
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic read, interesting, informative and enlightening. Lots of factoids and detail on the nonsense writers life who did more than The Owl and the Pussycat and the prose this is written allows the layperson to find out about all this extra ever easier.
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I only knew Lear's nonsense verse, turns out he was an excellent landscape painter and intrepid traveler, also a great friend especially to children
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is everything a biography should be:

all things fair
With such a pencil such a pen
You shadow'd forth to distant men
I read and felt that I was there
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautifully compiled and well researched
Ruth Brumby
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
A beautifully produced book, which is a pleasure to read. The information from thorough research is thoughtfully processed so that the work is well structured with appropriate illustrations and examples. Lear's art work and writing are interpreted in conjunction with other evidence to make a whole picture.
Feb 27, 2019 rated it liked it
I mostly knew Lear as the writer of nonsense and was delighted to learn about his life as an artist and traveler. This wasn't my favorite biography, but I did enjoy it overall.
Cynthia Anderson
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Perfect in winter for an anglophile who has lots of free time. Beautifully illustrated, old school enjoyable.
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May 03, 2018
Alec Longstreth
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Jan 10, 2019
Kit Barry
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Mar 22, 2019
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Nov 14, 2017
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Jennifer Sheila Uglow OBE (née Crowther, born 1947) is a British biographer, critic and publisher. The editorial director of Chatto & Windus, she has written critically acclaimed biographies of Elizabeth Gaskell, William Hogarth, Thomas Bewick and the Lunar Society, among others, and has also compiled a women's biographical dictionary.
“Like many boys unhappy at school Lear built an inner life and learned that one way to be accepted was to make people laugh, to become an amiable buffoon. While he fretted about being ‘half-educated’ he was glad, he said later, to have escaped the straitjacket of conventional teaching, as so many of those who had been laboriously and expensively educated lost their learning, ‘& remain like Swift’s Stullbruggs – cut & dried for life, making no use of their earlier-gained treasures: – whereas I seem to be on the threshold of knowledge’.” 0 likes
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