Last Sunday, I went down to London to visit two of my children and my one and only grandchild and on the following afternoon I had scheduled a visit to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I had some spare time on Monday morning and had intended to visit a couple of galleries or museums but my best laid plans were thwarted because of an item of shopping I was looking for which proved elusive and the atrocious weather which put a damper on any thoughts I had of a pleasant stroll between artistic collections. I had seen an advert for an exhibition, Samuel Palmer, His Friends and His Followers at The Fine Art Society which is situated in New Bond Street so I eventually ended up there like a drowned rat as my umbrella proved totally inadequate to counter the torrential rain. I will look at one of the paintings from that exhibition in a later blog. I left there and still had an hour to kill before I was due to attend the Royal Academy and as I had no intention of any further long walks in the downpour I ended up at the Richard Green Gallery just a few doors down from The Fine Art Society. The gallery was in the process of hanging an Edward Seago exhibition but allowed me to take a look at what was already in place. What a wonderful collection of art.
Edward Brian Seago was born in Norwich in 1910, the second son of Brian, a local coal merchant and Mabel Seago. As a child he suffered quite a lot with ill health caused by a heart complaint, paroxysmal tachycardia, with which he was first diagnosed when he was eight years of age. This illness meant that on a number of occasions he was reluctantly confined to his bed. As a result of this enforced confinement, he spent a lot of time painting skies and the surrounding landscape from his bedroom window. Seago later remembered those times with a surprising fondness and called his enforced leisure, “spells of sheer delight”. It was during these periods of imposed convalescence that the young Edward Seago realised his great enthusiasm and aptitude for painting.
His continued illness precluded him from any formal artistic training and, for the most, he taught himself. He did however receive some artistic advice from the local East Anglian painters who were both impressed with his work. They were Sir Alfred Munnings, who lived in Dedham close to the Essex/Sussex border and the landscape painter, Bertram Priestman, who remained a friend for the rest of Seago’s life. Another of Edward Seago’s friends was the poet John Masefield with whom Seago collaborated on a number of publications. Masefield would provide the poems whilst Seago provided the illustrations. Two of the most successful collaborations were The Country Scene which was published in 1937 and Tribute to Ballet which was published the following year. It was also Masefield that instilled in Seago the love and appreciation of English country life.
Seago’s landscape works were influenced by the landscape paintings of the Dutch Masters as there was a certain similarity between the landscape of The Netherlands and that of the East Anglian countryside. Seago also was a great admirer of the landscape works of the English painter, John Constable and by the painters of the Norwich School founded by John Chrome in 1803. However notwithstanding all these outside influences, his biographer James Reid, wrote:
“…While Seago’s subject matter evolved within a fundamentally traditional genre, his methodology, style and technique contributed to an innovative interpretation of the rural, urban and marine scene…“
During the 1930’s Seago led a very varied existence. He loved the freedom associated with a bohemian lifestyle and would often travel and work with circus folk, gypsies and ballet dancers but at the same time he kept in contact with the more refined aristocratic circles which provided him with generous patronage. One such patron and friend was the politician and industrialist, Henry Mond, 2nd Lord Melchett, who was also an art connoisseur and collector. Seago and Henry Mond travelled together to Venice in 1933. Seago was astounded by the beauty of Venice which he later captured in many of his oil paintings. He also had the opportunity to view the art works of the great Italian masters which were on show in the city.
Another of Seago’s close friends was Princess Mary, the Countess of Harewood, who was King George VI’s sister, and it was through this acquaintance that he was later to meet the present Royal Family who collected many of his paintings. George VI also commissioned a portrait, and that royal patronage made Seago and his art, very fashionable. The Queen Mother bought so many of his works of art that eventually the artist gave her two a year – on her birthday and at Christmas. Later, in 1956, he accompanied Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh on the Royal Yacht Britannia, on a world tour and during one part of the voyage the ship sailed around the Antarctic. Prince Philip and Edward Seago used to paint alongside each other on the deck of the Royal Yacht Britannia and the two developed a very close friendship. Edward Seago’s paintings depicting the Antarctic were quite beautiful and were loved by art critics and the public alike.
He became a war artist in Italy during the Second World War and spent two years with General Alexander. After the Second World War Edward Seago concentrated his art work on the East Anglian countryside with its cloud-filled skies, cattle grazing in the expansive flat fields as well as paintings which focused on the waters and the mudflats of The Broads and some of the barges which plied their trade along these inland waterways. His beautiful landscape paintings would often incorporate man-made structures such as windmills, churches and farmhouses. Seago loved East Anglia and its countryside and once wrote:
“…Perhaps one has to be born and bred there for it to really get into one’s blood. But it has a powerful hold on me, and whenever I go, I feel a longing to return there…”
In 1968 Seago bought Ca Conca, a villa apartment in the elegant yachting resort of Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda, Sardinia. The terrace of his property offered fine views of the harbour to the right. His life was suddenly cut short whilst on a painting tour of Sardinia when he was diagnosed as having a brain tumour, from which he died in London in January 1974 just before his sixty-fourth birthday. In terms of commissions, he was the most successful artist of his day.
The painting I have featured today by Edward Seago is entitled A Suffolk Farm and epitomises the beauty of his landscape paintings and his love for the Suffolk countryside. I urge you to visit the Richard Green Gallery (147 New Bond Street, London W1 2TS) which in honour of Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, is presenting an exhibition of 41 paintings by Edward Seago. The exhibition opened on June 13th and ends on Saturday, July 7th. The gallery is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 6pm and on Saturday from 10am to 1pm. I can assure you that you will not be disappointed and if you have a few pounds to spare then you will be pleased to know that all the works are up for sale.