Written by
1 October 2010

Edward Lear may be better known now for his nonsense verse and limericks which often feature animals.

However he began his career as a zoological illustrator, illustrating the parrots in the Parrot House at London Zoo, this resulted in the publication of Illustrations of the family of Psittacidae, or parrots, the greater part of them species hitherto unfigured in 1832. The first plates for the book were issued in 1830 when he was still only 18.

It was an amazing achievement, the book being a self-published, large, folio volume containing 42 detailed, hand-coloured plates. Only 175 copies were published. It was the first British publication on the subject of a single family of birds. He used a new technique called lithography resulting in prints which looked almost like watercolours, with softer lines compared to earlier prints using engraving techniques.

Red and yellow macaw, lithograph by Edward Lear
Red and yellow macaw. Macrocercus aracanga, lithograph by Edward Lear

Further Reading

If you would like to find out more, books about him include Edward Lear and his world by John Lehmann, Edward Lear : the life of a wanderer and The painter Edward Lear both by Vivien Noakes.

All the books mentioned can be consulted in ZSL Library, search our online catalogue at ZSL Library Online Catalogue.

Please enjoy these wonderful illustrations.

Search the library online catalogue