A Lear Productions' Series
Both Derek Smith and Mark Lavender are working on this three part series for television
Nearly all of us have when young enjoyed learning the popular nonsense and comic rhymes of Edward Lear, but few of us are aware of his talents as a serious landscape painter, diarist and poet and that he was one of the few people to explore the turbulent Southern Balkans during the mid 19th Century.
Most importantly for posterity and for us, the diaries and paintings he produced on the journeys, all survive. They are rich in detail and observation and the work provides the basis for this three part series in which Robert Horne retraces Lear's journey's of 1848-9 and brings to life his adventures during his travels in Northern Greece, Macedonia and Albania when he helped to open up the mysterious territories to the West.
Who was Edward Lear? And what on earth was a clumsy artist with bad eyesight and a weak constitution doing risking life and limb in such inhospitable regions?
Most importantly what has become of the world he explored over 150 years ago? With Lear's words and pictures as our guide in these still relatively unknown parts of Europe, Robert seeks answers. Lear's life and work is put into a fresh perspective and his writings used to contrast the experience of the intrepid Victorian traveller with the realities of today in a region where the legacy of the last hundred years or so has left it struggling to come to terms with the modern world.
The paintings and journals become the signposts and markers on a dual journey to find out about Lear and also the unique cultural and topographical landscape of the Southern Balkan peninsular, which he loved. The journey takes us through some of the most magnificent, unspoiled and still barely visited territories in Europe.
As remote and exotic today as it was in the 19th Century, a region dotted with romantic remains that share much of a common history and rich culture.
Robert reveals the drama associated with primitive travel in 1848-9 where the usual perils of the terrain and weather, were further burdened by Lear's epilepsy, depression, malaria and other illnesses beset by 19th Century travellers.
He explains that for Lear despite his good humour and resilience, travel was a distraction from a blighted personality, a life fraught with self-loathing and loneliness. But it became a path to companionship, a means to meet new people, hosts and fellow travellers. Lear was never alone while on the road sketching. In a similar way Robert Horne encounters a host of individuals along his journey who add a new perspective to the narrative at each stage.
For example Fanni Marie -Tsigakou in Athens. Fanni is a Lear expert and she shows us Lear's contribution to the art of travel and art in general.
We visit Thessaloniki, Greece's vibrant second city, which was in the grip of the plague when Lear landed. But it boasts Turkish baths, the best food in Greece, remains that offer unique examples of Byzantine heritage as well as a crusader past, and the legacy of the Ottoman occupation. An encounter in Mr and Mrs Molocho's Jewish bookshop sends us off on a search for the sad vestiges of what was one of the most important communities of the Jewish world until it was decimated by the Nazis.
The series is distinguished by strong images as our programme participants are set against a background of a spectacular landscape, for example Meteora "where the monasteries are planted like the nest of eagles." and Mount Athos, which proved elusive and unattainable because of the weather became a symbol of Lear' s personal struggle.
But it is the ordinary people of the towns and villages who ultimately bring a dimension to the series, some we meet at events such as the National Folk Festival at Girokaster where musicians and dancers gather from Albania Macedonia and Kosovo, others found by our research, are be linked to Lear's quest.