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Edward Lear made the present drawing for the family of his childhood friend, Fanny (née Drewitt), of Peppering House, Burpham, Sussex, and her husband, George Coombe. Dated ‘Apl 15 1846’, it was probably produced on a rare visit to England, during the years in which Lear was living in Italy. In the same month, the first volume of his Illustrated Excursions in Italy – which he dedicated to his patron, the Earl of Derby – was published in London by Thomas M’Lean, and this led to his being appointed drawing master to Queen Victoria. Earlier the same year, he had also launched himself as a comic poet, with A Book of Nonsense, which comprised the illustrated verses that he had composed for Derby’s children.
Lear had initially made his name as an ornithological draughtsman, in issuing Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots in parts between 1830 and 1832. His work would continue to feature birds both serious and humorous, including a duck in his poem, ‘The Duck and the Kangaroo’ (circa 1865), and the limerick, ‘D was a Duck’ (from the comic alphabet, ‘A was an Ant’ of 1867), and a goose in ‘G was a little old Goose’ (from another comic alphabet, written in about 1880). The present fowl are more likely to be geese rather than ducks, as is indicated by the shape of their beaks and the length of their necks.