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Edward Lear exhibition at The Ashmolean, Oxford

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I don’t know about you, but I love going to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It’s really calming, beautifully set out and, apart from some not-so-great expereriences in the cafe which is a bit too school canteen for my liking it’s a winner every time.

‘Jerusalem’ in oil, by Edward Lear

I saw this at the press preview a few days back so sorry it’s taken so long to review it for you – there was a small matter of men in togas on Wednesday night, then the Muddy Guide, then… well you know how it is.

I had great hopes for the Happy Birthday Edward Lear exhibition, and they’ve been largely fulfilled from an adult perspective. Having known so little of his work, the breadth of his art is impressive. His oil paintings are spectacular (see Jerusalem in particular) and his nonsense poetry and illustrations pre-date Lewis Carroll’s bonkers brilliance by some distance.

The exhibition is comprehensive, but won’t take more than an hour of your day so it’s perfect for dipping into during lunch break, or popping up to see it during a morning at the Ashmolean.

Lear’s early expertise as an ornithological artist

My presumption was that it would be great for little kids too – all those pictures of birds and self-portrait cartoons with silly beards – but with much of the exhibition given over to his landscape art, I probably wouldn’t make the pilgrimage on my 3 and 5 year old’s behalf. Older kids with a talent or real interest in art or birds will gain a lot more from it.

Also worth noting there’s a fab little exhibition shop as you leave Happy Birthday Edward Lear – right opposite in fact – where you can buy all sorts of loosely related gifts. The books are the best value – £10 for his Nonsense poetry and ABC illustrations of strange animals for children. Really good stocking fillers for (OMG, I can’t believe I’m saying this) CHRISTMAS!

Happy Birthday Edward Lear: 200 Years of Nature and Nonsense, until 6 January 2013. £4/£3 concessions. www.ashmolean.org

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