The Isle of Philae, viewed from the north
The Isle of Philae, viewed from the north

EDWARD LEAR (1812-1888)

The Isle of Philae, viewed from the north

1854 to 1867 England

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Edward Lear journeyed along the River Nile in January and February 1854 and, of all the scenery and ruined temples which he saw, it was Philae which impressed him most. He was captivated by the magic vistas, and the extraordinary quality of light in and around the area.

He wrote to his sister Ann on 7 February, 1854 ‘it is more like a real fairy-tale island than anything else that I can compare it to. It is very small and was formerly all covered with temples of which the ruins of 5 or 6 remain. The great temple of Isis is so extremely wonderful that no words can give the least idea of it’. A few days later he wrote again to Ann that Philae was ‘the most romantic....I shall never forget the ten comfortable days I passed in my chamber.’

Lear took part in expeditions up the Nile in 1854 and 1867. He depicted Philae in countless watercolours and a number of oil paintings from varying points. In the present work, drawn by the island’s setting rather than just its antiquities, he focused his attention on the huge boulders and the light effects on them and the water surface.

Lear was not alone in finding the island of Philae the most attractive of Egypt’s ancient sites. Its beauty was eulogised by the many other tourists who visited it in the nineteenth century. In recent times the complex was dismantled and relocated to a nearby island in connection to the UNESCO project following the construction of the Aswan Dam.

This canvas has long been in a private collection in France.
- Agnews, London
- Private Collection, France
Height 34.00 cm (13.39 inches)
Width 52.00 cm (20.47 inches)
Oil on canvas
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