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Early in 1837, a group of subscribers, led by the Earl of Derby and his cousin, Robert Hornby, commissioned Edward Lear to go to Rome to produce drawings (and, at the same time, to improve the state of his health). It would be his third trip to the Continent, but his first to Italy. He left England in July that year, and arrived in Rome in the December. Apart from two visits to England in 1841 and 1845-46, he then remained in Italy for a decade.
Each summer of that decade, Lear would travel to a different part of the country. In May 1838, he made a slow journey to Naples in the company of fellow artist, James Uwins. On their arrival, they found that they were staying in the same hotel – the Hotel de La Ville de Rome – as Samuel Palmer and his wife, Hannah, who were in the middle of their Italian honeymoon. However, Lear found Naples ‘all noise, horror – dirt, heat – & abomination’ (as he expressed in a letter to John Gould in the following year, on 17 October 1839). So, after a few days, he and Uwins moved on.
Travelling in a south-easterly direction, they settled at Corpo di Cava, a village situated at the head of a high wooded valley looking down to the Bay of Salerno. It had been the haunt of artists since the time
of Poussin and Rosa, and James Uwins’ uncle, Thomas Uwins RA, had painted there 10 years before, which may have prompted his and Lear’s visit. There they established a daily pattern of walking and sketching, punctuated by some longer expeditions, including that, in the middle of June, to the classical ruins of Paestum, which dominate the coastline about 30 miles south of Salerno.
Late in June, Lear and Uwins moved from Corpo di Cava to Amalfi, on the coast west of Salerno, and stayed for three weeks at the Albergo Cappucini, until 18 July. The visitors’ book reveals that they overlapped with Achille Vianelli and Ercole Gigante, two landscape painters of the School of Posillipo. It was following their return to Corpo di Cava in late July that Lear produced Collecting Water, Corpo di Cava. This shows Lear experimenting with oil – on paper – for the first time, sometimes purely and sometimes in conjunction with other, water-based media. His decade in Italy is defined in part by his decision to take seriously to oils. He and Uwins finally left Corpo di Cava at the beginning of August, in order to stay in Sorrento, on the southern extreme of the Bay of Naples. At the end of the month, they began their slow return to Rome.