TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough, pictured, praised the colourful bird drawings of Edward Lear as he prepared to fly to Africa for his latest film project.

Sir David, 86, was at the Ashmolean Museum yesterday to launch the new exhibition Happy Birthday Edward Lear: 200 years of Nature and Nonsense, which celebrates the bicentenary of the limerick legend.

The exhibition features 100 works of art from the museum’s own collection, loans from the Bodleian Library, and works from private collections.

Sir David said he was impressed by the artist’s parrot drawings, including one of a red and yellow macaw featured in a poster promoting the exhibition.

He added: “The parrot drawings were extraordinarily impressive.

“Arguably Lear was the first ornithological artist ever and he achieved that pinnacle at 18.

“Lear combines accuracy and style and you cannot mistake one of his drawings.

“It is a style full of grace and personality.

“I think he is a much-neglected artist and I thank the Ashmolean on behalf of Lear for doing this survey for his 200th birthday.”

Sir David said he was about to fly to Africa to film for a new TV programme as he celebrates 60 years of broadcasting this year.

Museum director Christopher Brown said: “Most of the books in the exhibition are from the Bodleian and we are very grateful to private collectors for their support and generosity.”

Senior curator for European Art Colin Harrison added that the retrospective had been compiled despite Harvard University “hoovering up” many of Lear’s landscape sketches and nonsense manuscripts.

He said: “We borrowed heavily from private collectors – they were extremely accommodating.”

The exhibition runs from today until January 6, 2013.

Admission is £4, £3 concessions, and children under 18 get in free.

Picture: OX54454 Jon Lewis