Saturday, May 2, 2009

A short bio of Eward Seago

© The Estate of Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery

Edward Seago from Edward Seago the landscape art by James W. Reid Sothebys pub. 1991

I will do another post or two on Seago and then Monday I will change gears and begin some critiques of readers art. You still have a day or two, so send me images of your paintings. I already have more than I can do so it will be a sort of sweepstakes. I will sit on some of them and do another crit in a month or so. This will be a regular feature of this blog until I drive it in to the ditch.

I want to give you a brief history on Seago. He was born into a comfortably well off family in the East Anglia region of England in 1910. East Anglia is a low country of fens and moors. Although he traveled the world painting, it was East Anglia that most inspired him and he returned to its low and windswept moors and estuary's throughout his whole life for subject matter.
As a child he developed some kind of a heart problem that made him nearly an invalid. Seago was kept home from school and was not allowed any rough play or athletics, he instead spent his time drawing. No one really ever knew what the problem was with Seagos heart and it may well have been psychosomatic.

At 17 he was befriended by a neighbor lady of the highest social caste and introduced to the world of the noble and wealthy. All of his life these connections provided him with clients and sponsors. He spent the first part of his career doing portraits of the wealthy and their horses. Seago traveled with the circus and, and illustrated several books on those experiences.
During world war two he was able to fool a medical inspector and enter the army and became a major in the camouflage service. Again he came to the attention of the top brass and became a companion of the highest generals. When his lifelong heart problems recurred he was brought before a medical board and dismissed. Rather than send him home the generals he had befriended, and some of whom were amateur painters themselves, gave him a jeep and a driver so he could document the war with his art.

After the war these drawings were shown in conjunction with their publication in a book. Over the following years he became a favorite of the royal family allowing him grand patronage and putting the ultimate seal of approval on his art in the eyes of the buying public. People lined up before the opening of his shows for a chance to buy his art.

He was however either ignored or sometimes savaged by the critics in the newspapers. He was also never admitted to the Royal Academy. His several gay lovers in his youth had both died tragically, his relationship with his overbearing parents was stormy and he never had anything but the deepest doubt in his own worth as an artist. All of this added up to make him a deeply unhappy and haunted man.
The last years of his life were spent with a young man, Peter Seymour who was a lover and personal secretary to him until his death from a brain tumor in 1974. Together they traveled the world and made a beautiful home together they called Dutch house in his beloved East Anglia. He could paint his back garden, as the English call their yards and at the bottom of that was moored his sailboat . He could and did, sail from his back door to Paris.

His fame has continued to grow since his death and the prices of his paintings has risen continually as well. There are a LOT of them. He was extremely prolific and he painted at lightning speed rarely spending more than a few hours on a picture.
Seago used an unusual palette mostly of duller or earth colors. Here it is:

  • yellow ocher
  • alizarin crimson
  • ultramarine
  • blue black or indigo
  • chrome yellow
  • viridian
  • Indian red or light red
  • vermilion
  • sometimes burnt sienna
  • flake white
Seago usually worked on canvas and on panels that he himself applied a thick brush stroke texture to in lieu of a more conventional priming. This texture had a profound effect on how his paintings were made. Tomorrow I will tell you how to do it.


Bob Carter said...

Thanks for giving this background. Sounds like a tortured soul who at least found happiness in the end. Describing his palette explains a lot. Sometimes when I glance at a Seago I think I'm looking at something from the 17th century. But the loose brushwork yanks you back to the 20th century. (Although there's a Hals in the MFA that would give the lie to that clue.) His muted palette is clearly what gives his work that surprising "old" look. I can't think of any of his contemporaries who have the same feel. As a fan of chromatic palettes, I find it odd that I like his work so much.

Unknown said...

His life sounded like a rough adventure.

By the way, I don't know if you could run the critiques into the ground - we all need to get better.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Notice that the comparison to the Dutch seems so natural. Of course he looked art John Crome and Francis Parkes Bonington.There is also Constable in there.Wyeth would find his color familiar.

Stapleton Kearns said...


When you get the book on him you find out far more, I abreviated a lot.Critiques are coming. They are real demanding on this end, so I have to lkimit what I do somewhat. I think I may try a new rapid fire sort of format.

Paul S said...

Do you know if Seago signed his pictures in different ways. I know most were signed "Edward Seago" but I have also seen pictures which have been attributed to him or his school one of which bears a monogram (in the form of an S) and the other merely the initials ES. Is someone having me on or could either of these be genuine?

bingostarkey said...

Yes Edward Seago did use his initial/s ES,S,EBS ( Edward Brian Seago). So, yes they could be genuine . But can I also add, there are Seagos' and there are Seagos'. What I mean by this is just because he painted it, that doesn't always mean it's worth a fortune, he produced a lot of work, and as any other artist,he didn't always hit the mark !. Would still be great to own one though !
I've studied ES's work for years, walked around his garden at Dutch House.... He was, is, one of Englands finest painters.