Ullswater, Lake District, Cumbria, England
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Signed and inscribed with title
Edward Lear had expressed a desire to visit the Holy Land from at least as early as 1848. A decade later, in 1858, he achieved his goal, as the result of a commission from his loyal patron, Lady Waldegrave, who asked him to produce paintings of Jerusalem and Masada.
Lear saw Jerusalem for the first time on 27 March, and began to explore the surrounding countryside on the following day. However, the city was so crowded with Easter pilgrims that he soon continued his journey southwards to Petra, arriving there in mid April. Travelling back via Masada and the Dead Sea, he reached Jerusalem on 24 April, and then drew intensively in its environs, including the village of Bethany. Lear later wrote to Lady Waldegrave that Bethany is ‘lovely now as it ever must have been: quiet, still little nook of valley scenery’ (27 May 1858, Lady Strachey (ed), Letters of Edward Lear, London: T Fisher Unwin, 1907, page 107).
Bethany lies on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives, and is the site of the reputed tomb of Lazarus, who – the Gospel of St John records – was raised to life by Jesus. It is now known as al-Eizariya, the Arabic name for ‘Place of Lazarus’, and is the second largest Palestinian settlement in the Jerusalem Governorate.
The present work is one of at least three 1858 drawings of Bethany, all of which Lear used as the basis of his 1879 oil on canvas, The Plains of Bethany (sold in auction in London in 2017). The drawing was acquired by Lear’s close friend, the barrister and politician, George Clive, and long remained in his family.