The Remarkable Nature of Edward Lear

An illustrated talk by Robert McCracken Peck, accompanied by a display of rare books.

Wednesday, October 5th
Q?rius Theater

National Museum of Natural History, Ground Floor
10th Street and Constitution Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20560


Edward  Lear (1812-1888) is best known and much loved for “The Owl and the Pussycat” and other nonsense poetry.  But Lear was also a fine painter of birds, mammals, reptiles, and landscapes and an adventurous, world-wide traveler. During the golden age of natural history book production, Lear's parrots, macaws, toucans, owls, and other birds stand out as especially powerful and memorable.  He was a genius at capturing the life-like appearance and individual personalities of his subjects.  His mammal paintings, which feature everything from hedgehogs, shrews, kangaroos and bats, to Tasmanian Devils, are full of character and action. Often compared with Lewis Carroll for his nonsense verse and with Audubon for his portraits of birds, Lear's enigmatic career and private personality have made him less well known than his peers, and little understood, even by his many admirers.

Robert McCracken Peck, author of the new, profusely illustrated book The Natural History of Edward Lear (David R. Godine, fall 2016), will discuss the remarkable life and natural history paintings of this beloved children’s writer, who abruptly and mysteriously abandoned his scientific work soon after he achieved preeminence in the field.  Peck is the curator of art and artifacts at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, a guest curator of a bicentennial exhibition of Edward Lear’s natural history paintings at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, and veteran of many scientific expeditions to remote regions of the Amazon rainforest and Mongolian steppes.  He is the author of books on other masters of wildlife art, including Audubon and Louis Agassiz Fuertes, and has lectured widely on Lear in Great Britain and the United States.  Copies of his book will be available for sale and signing by the author after the lecture.

Following the lecture, Leslie K. Overstreet,  Curator of Natural-History Rare Books, will present a display of books illustrated by Edward Lear from the collections of the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History.

This event is free and open to the public. To reserve your space, please RSVP via Eventbrite. For access services, please contact us at or 202.633.2241, preferably two weeks prior to the program.