When Edward Lear taught art to Queen Victoria

Edward Lear Self Portrait

Edward Lear Self Portrait

Sometimes, as I am researching, I come across incidents that startle me with their absolute whimsy. Yesterday, I discovered that Edward Lear, the author of The Owl and the Pussycat, books of nonsense verse, and serious author and illustrator, was once Queen Victoria’s art master for several weeks in 1846. The Queen was only 27 and already the mother of five children, and Prince Albert actively  encouraged his pretty young wife to develop her artistic skills. (The more I discover about Prince Albert, the more I like him.) Edward Lear was 34 and at the height of his artistic career, as his first book of nonsense was published in this same year.

Queen Victoria in 1845, with Princess Victoria, her eldest child

Though Edward Lear is now remembered for his nonsense verse, he was an artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet.

His principal areas of work as an artist were threefold: as a draughtsman employed to illustrate birds and animals; making coloured drawings during his journeys, which he reworked later, sometimes as plates for his travel books; as a (minor) illustrator of Alfred Tennyson’s poems. As an author, he is known principally for his popular nonsense collections of poems, songs, short stories, botanical drawings, recipes, and alphabets. He also composed and published twelve musical settings of Tennyson’s poetry. – Wikipedia

He was a talented gentleman, and it was his skills as an artist that gained him the gig as art tutor to a Queen. There is some mention of Lear in the Queen’s diary, and the visit with the royals is mention in some of Lear’s papers. Personally, I prefer to imagine what it must have been like in those tutorials. Every image of Edward Lear shows a man with humorous eyes and a quiet smile, a kind-looking gentleman with a magnificent beard. I imagine he wasn’t too hard a taskmaster, all of the Queen Victoria’s diary entries describes an encouraging tutor who praised her efforts.

In my Steampunk narrative, I may never have the opportunity to mention these art lessons. But just knowing about them is worthwhile.

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