The Natural History of Edward Lear (1812-1888)

Front cover image

Robert McCracken Peck, foreword by Sir David Attenborough

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ACC Art Books
Territory: World excluding USA and Canada
Size: 254 mm x 177 mm
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 200 colour

RRP £27.99

  • Stunning illustrations - many reproduced here for the first time - by writer and illustrator Edward Lear confirming his place among the greatest natural history painters of all time
  • With a foreword by Sir David Attenborough

Before he became celebrated as the writer and illustrator of nonsense poetry, Edward Lear was a prolific painter of natural history subjects who earned near-universal praise for the accuracy, originality and elegant style of his animated depictions of birds and other wildlife. His best remembered scientific contribution is his magnificent monograph on parrots, the first English natural history book to focus on a single family of birds, which he began to publish when he was just 18. His depictions of "species hitherto unfigured" of that gaudy group of birds dazzled the world and established Lear as the artist of choice for many of the leading ornithological publishers. In that golden age of colour-plate books, an era still celebrated for the great volumes created by John James Audubon and John Gould, Lear created some of the most spectacular natural history illustrations ever published. He did so without the benefit of any formal training in art, and with neither independent funding nor institutional support. The original watercolours for his scientific paintings - many reproduced here for the first time - confirm Lear's place among the greatest natural history painters of all time.

Robert McCracken Peck, curator of art and artefacts and senior fellow of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, is a writer, naturalist, and historian who has travelled extensively in North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. He has written numerous books on the subject of natural history, and has also written for newspapers and a wide range of popular and scholarly publications.

What the press have said about this book...

"Robert McCracken Peck's beautifully illustrated study concentrates on the Victorian polymath's birds and mammals, from his earliest drawings for London's august Zoological Society and the breathtaking album of parrots to the great paintings commissioned by the best-known natural historians and collectors of the day (...) This elegant book belongs on the shelves of anyone with an interest in art, history, birds, and their rich intersections." -- Birding Magazine (February 2017)

"This beautiful, richly illustrated and carefully researched volume by Robert McCracken Peck is to be warmly welcomed. It is a very useful contribution to the furtherance of our understanding of this extraordinary man. -- The Times Literary Supplement

'Mr Peck, a historian of scientific discovery and art at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, ranks him "among the best natural history painters of all time," (...) His soul, if there is justice, now brawls across some equatorial sky, joyously squawking in a parrot flock of his own colourful kind.' -- The Wall Street Journal

"That doesn't mean it's just a volume of pretty – very pretty – pictures. Peck, described as "a naturalist, writer, and historian with a special interest in the intersection of science and art", knows his stuff, having curated an exhibition of Lear's paintings at Harvard's Houghton Library. But he writes a friendly, easy­going prose and keeps all his chapters brief, sometimes no longer than a page or two. Through careful design, the book's images and text are also neatly integrated." -- Financial Review (Online)


"Robert McCracken Peck's "The Natural History of Edward Lear" is, in part, a concise biography of the great Victorian artist, traveller, and nonsense poet, but more particularly a celebration of Lear's youthful works as an illustrator of plants and animals. Beautifully produced, this is a title that serious bookshops will be recommending (...) -- The Washington Post


"This is a keepsake for fans of Lear and anyone interested in art and natural history." -- Publishers Weekly (Please find the review at in print and online editions.)


“Over 20 years of careful research at Harvard and elsewhere, McCracken Peck has discovered a great deal that is new and which will fascinate anyone with a love for Lear and for fine natural history illustration.” -- The Times

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