A public display of rare and valuable books, drawings and lithographs, showcasing the fine zoological illustrations of Edward Lear, renowned for his poetry, including the famed The Owl and the Pussycat, has been unveiled at the Royal Society.

The Society is celebrating the bicentenary year of Edward Lear (1812–1888) by exhibiting some of his finest works that exemplify his achievement as a zoological illustrator and his collaboration with Fellows of the Royal Society. The exhibition Edward Lear and the Scientists presents a fascinating collaboration between art and science in the nineteenth century, drawn mainly from the Royal Society Library.

At the heart of the display is the rare folio illustrated by Lear and edited by John Edward Gray FRS, Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall (1846). Presented to the Royal Society by the 13th Earl of Derby, it features illustrations of live specimens, including a giant squirrel, brought to his home from all over the world. Also on display will be the valuable Birds of Europe (1832–7) by John Gould FRS, featuring stunning owl and toucan portraits, as well as many smaller drawings including turtles, hedgehogs and ammonites in fine detail.

“Lear is remembered as humorist, landscape painter, poet and musician, but perhaps his greatest works are his beautifully-observed, vivid prints of exotic birds: parrots, toucans, flamingos and pelicans,” said Rowena Fowler, exhibition curator. “During the 1830s he illustrated the work of ten Fellows of the Royal Society, including William Buckland, Thomas Bell, John Gould and William Jardine. He later turned scientific nomenclature into Nonsense, but portrayed his Nonsense characters, including a familiar owl, with zoological accuracy.”

Watch a video of the exhibition.

If you’d like to attend in person, the exhibition will take place in the Marble Hall of the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London. It is free to attend but viewings must be scheduled in advance and can only take place during library opening hours (Monday–Friday, 10am-5pm, from Wednesday 29 August until Friday 26 October). To make an appointment please call +44 (0)20 7451 2606.

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