Edward Lear: Malayan Giant Squirrel (courtesy of Royal Society)

Work / Illustration

King of nonsense verse Edward Lear’s other life as a zoological illustrator explored in new show

Edward Lear is best known for his nonsense verse, the first poetry I came across as a youngster and so the standard by which I still judge everyone else (note to all other poets, you’re very serious). But the man who made silliness an artform began his career at the other end of the stupidity-serious spectrum working as a zoological illustrator.

The Royal Society in London is currently showing a comprehensive collection of his scientific work, from toucans and turtles to hedgehogs and herons. The illustrations themselves are really beautiful, combining the accuracy needed with a definite way of capturing the personalities of his subjects and of course anyone familiar with Lear’s work will be fascinated to see the other string to the prodigious talent’s bow and think about how this work informed his other.

The show runs until October 26.


Edward Lear: Culmentaed Toucan (courtesy of Royal Society)


Edward Lear: Hedgehog (courtesy of Royal Society)


Edward Lear: Yellow-footed tortoise (courtesy of Royal Society)


Edward Lear: Red Lemur (courtesy of Royal Society)


Edward Lear: Purple Heron (courtesy of Royal Society)


Edward Lear: Eagle Owl (courtesy of Royal Society)


Edward Lear: Collaptes Collaris(courtesy of Royal Society)