For Lear, the island of Corfu was an unsurpassed Paradise of blue skies, clear seas and lush rolling landscape, the source of unlimited inspiration. The present picture depicts the view from the hillside above the village of Ascension, where two herdsmen rest on the sun-baked rock amid their goats and the groves of gnarled olives where an ancient town once stood. Through the canopy of olives a few small pools or sunlight penetrate to illuminate the steeply descending path where figures are wending their way. Beyond the forested slopes is a sweeping vista northwards across the bay to the snow-capped Albanian mountains, the small island of Vido, and the historic Citadel - the bastion built in the thirteenth century by the Venetians to control to narrow straights between the island and the Albanian coast.
Lear visited Corfu for the first time in 1848 and left spellbound by the picturesque vistas. He returned in 1855 and remained for six years, until the island, formerly under British protection, was taken over by the Greeks. In 1856 he described the island, ‘I really think no place on Earth could be lovlier than this:- the olives in their half wind & uncared for semi-culture are so perfectly beautiful - & the views of every part of the Albanian coast so exquisitely majestic.’ (ibid Noakes, p.148) In the same year he began his first view from the same hillside as the present picture, which rose up behind the village of Ascension (named Coreya by the ancient Greeks and known today as Analpsis). He wrote to a correspondent back in England, ‘I have some idea of devoting a good bit of time to illustrating this little promontory for it is… full of interest, as the old city of Ascension… was built on it, ancient coins and marbles are still found.’ (ibid Noakes, p.148) Lear also produced dozens of watercolour sketches of Corfu and drawings which were made into lithographs for 'Views in the Ionian Islands' (published by Lear in 1863). One of the lithographs depicted a view from the hillside, described thus; ‘Those who have frequented the “other side” (as the main island is called in Corfu) will recognise the forms of the snowy Albanian hills: Mount Lykurski on the left and the Pass of Gardiki between it and the long range dividing the village of Arghyrokastro from Pelvino and Butrino. In front of these high hills are those nearer Santa Quaranta and the still nearer the eye, a part of the city of Corfu, the Palace and Esplanade and the road down to Kastrades. Then comes the Citadel – than which a more picturesque object can hardly exist – and the quiet bay of Kastrades. Thence, upward to the highest point over the foreground from which this beautiful scene is taken are thick olive groves and cypresses of the hill of Ascension. Few prospects can be more truly exquisite than this.’
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