Town mouse salutes Edward Lear

Edward Lear is still one of the best-loved writers of the British pantheon: children who don’t know much Donne or Keats will still have read The Owl and the Pussycat (COUNTRY LIFE, May 9, 2012). He was also an ornithological draughtsman and topographical artist. But where should one go to mark his bicentenary?

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There’s a small exhibition of prints and drawings at the British Museum (until July 15), but it could hardly be said that his home country has pushed the pea-green boat out in celebration. Runcible hats off, then, to Corfu, the island that Lear thought was one of the most beautiful spots on Earth. It’s repaid the compliment by staging an exceptionally elegant exhibition in the Palace of St Michael and St George in Corfu town. The palace dates from the British protectorate, a fine piece of neo-Classicism with Doric columns by the military engineer Sir George Whitmore.

One of the pleasures of the exhibition is the skill with which it’s been inserted into the historic interiors. Lear, self-taught, struggled with the great Academy oils with which he hoped to make his name and fortune, but the fluent sketches he made of Corfu and the other Ionian islands breathe tenderness. On Thursday, a bronze bust by Margot Roulleau Gallais was unveiled at the Cavalieri Hotel, Corfu. Can’t we get a copy for London?