Monday, April 27, 2009

Dissecting a Seago

August afternoon, Champs Elysees, 20x26 © The Estate of Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery

Here is our Parisian Seago again. I would like you to notice a few different things about it. First is the extreme velocity of the painting. It is LOOSE, this is not a small painting and it looks loose shrunk down to the size of a playing card.This painting is also colored almost entirely with shades of ochre and earth reds. Even the sky was pre painted in the warm ochery color and then the blue was thrown down into that. Then the decorative accents are applied on top of that foundation. One of these accents is of course that marvelous red awning. That was painted with vermilion, which is a lovely mercury based red. It is also extremely poisonous. When I learned to paint in the Gammell studios in the early 1970s it was still in common use, at least, by traditional painters. It w s often used by portrait painters as a color for the lips and cheeks of the maidens with which that age seemed so well supplied. I don't believe they make maidens any more. Today we would probably use cadmium red light instead. That's a hotter color than you'd use on a maiden, I think.

The painting is full of lines that direct the viewer in and to the "punchline" area of the painting. The red awning attracts our attention, but notice also the negative shape formed by the light to its left. It is, like the awning, a big arrow shape directing you deep into the picture. Seago reaches out and grabs you by the hair and drags you into this painting.

Here's another device Seago is using. Its called the string of pearls. Look at this, and compare it with the unaltered image at the top of the page.

Seago has arranged all of this interesting stuff, those little people and umbrellas and white dots along a horizontal line across the middle of his canvas. This makes a sort of decorated band. Which is like.....a string of pearls. Watch for this , you will see this device used routinely not just in the work of Edward Seapo but in lots of other landscape painters work as well. I believe I will throw an old Dutch painting at you with a string of pearls . Here's our old friend Jan Van Goyen, stringing some pearls 300 years earlier.

Seago lived in a lowland marshy area of England that was a lot like the lowlands countries. It was logical for Seago to model some of what he did on the little Dutch masters. He was routinely confronted with the same sort of painting problems.

Above is a simplified view of the darks in the painting. For the most part they are all linked as I have discussed in a previous post. This linking of the darks transforms many small "busy" shapes into a few large decorative ones. There is a strange sort of repeat relationship between the white awning on the far right hand side of the picture and the negative shape of the sky to the left of the red awning.I believe this is a rhythmic device, as it seems too planned looking to have just happened. Very little in the art of someone at Seagos level happens by accident. In fact I think I will now repeat one of the mantras of this blog which is:


There are now two available books on Seago,
Both are full of exclellent color reproductions, and are available from Amazon.

Edward Seago by Ron Ranson (Paperback - Jan 28, 2002)
Buy new: $29.74
17 Used & new from $20.00
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Other Editions: Hardcover

Edward Seago: The Vintage Years by Ron Ranson (Paperback - Aug 28, 2003)
15 Used & new from $24.70
Other Editions: Hardcover

Tomorrow I will lecture on counterchange. That is a great way to make a picture dynamic, rather than a static.

I am going to do another critique of a readers image, so please send me an image of something you have made, I will probably choose a landscape, but not necessarily, lets see what you've got. You can send it to me at I will photoshop your signature off of the piece and I will tell no one whose work I am critiquing.


JAMES A. COOK said...

Excellent post. The stringing of pearls is so great to know about. I love these things that you teach to help us know good paintings and they are all about" nothing gets into a painting by accident" . The linking of darks shows up great with your photo shop and easy for me to understand. QUESTION: What other color would you use instead of the yellow jacket that the lady in the middle of the painting is wearing? I think SEAGO has choosed this yellow color because it atracts subtle attention to the center of the paining . Could another color be used instead?


Unknown said...

So what you're saying is Vermillion=maiden, cad red light=hoochie?

Your analysis of the darks also shows a strong silhouette, which was probably another design element he was using.

willek said...

He also seems to be using the "eyes" system to place his centers of interest. Not every time, but a lot. Perhaps, if he opts for a lot of sky he gives it less weight and lowers a center of itterst. Maybe? I once saw a photo of Van Gogh with his box easel on his back and he was carying a wood frame about 8 x 10 with wires across and down it to form about a dozen equal squares. I assumed it was an aid to composition, or to help in establishing the view. The wires seemed to establish the "eyes" Can you comment on the system sometime? WillEK

Stapleton Kearns said...

James the word subtle is right. The yellow jacket is a pure color form of the dominant earth color ocher of the whole painting. Like wise the red awning is a pure color form of the dull Indian red which is in the rest of the painting.Any other color could be used I suppose, but Seago was very clever in that what he did use related in an interesting way to the rest of his color in the painting. Most artists would have put her in a red dress I think. I intend to use this devise./ I noticed it when I was studying the image for this post.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I was only half kidding. The difference between the two colors is loke that between a maiden and a "hoochie"
that may well be a new word to me. Vermilion is a lovely, warm and elegant color, that subtly influences other colors without calling unseemly attention to itself. . The cad red light is a bit overbearing and gets dirty in mixtures.....Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...


You have stumped me, I don't know the "eyes' system . You will have to elaborate and then I will pretend I knew all along.

I would suppose what Van Gogh had was either a viewfinder device or a
cube strainer for field mice and other small vermin......Stape

willek said...

I have seen different systems but the main one is to divide the picture rectangle into thirds vertically and into thirds horizontally. where those 4 lines meet is called the eyes. The device VanGogh had had three vertical wires in the frame and two horizontal wires, so that squares were formed. The eyes created by this device would be in a slightly different place thatn the first method. I have seen this in numerous places. You must have another name for it. I see the placement in a lot of Carlson landscapes in such locations, too. WillEK

Stapleton Kearns said...


Oh yeah, I know about that.

I have seen some very. very complicated geometric plans for arriving at "eyes". The author I am thinking of drops those plans over some baroque paintings. But I can't really see how all that geometry explains the paintings better than simpler systems might.
I still prefer to think of Van Gogh forcing captive vermin through that device, rather than plotting paintings with it,The placement of those eyes seems so instinctive to me that I cant imagine needing a vermin strainer to find them . I have always referred to them as the "power spots" in a painting. I need to do a post on the dangers of just throwing your most important object onto one of them, like Bonds throwing his hat onto Moneypennys coat rack. I have struggled myself to use more interesting design stems that form patterns of all the various elements in a web across the composition.

Jonathan said...

Stape: Thank you for your posts, I learned so much tonight reading your blog! Great art work also! Very inspiring!! I myself am trying to get into landscape paintings, seeing your work and your lectures on the blog, inspire me to start! I love the painting you put of "Seago" Great work and thanks again!!!

willek said...

Well, maybe I am seeing too much in these paintings. after all, if the artist does not put a center of interest along an edge, and does not place it in the middle, then there are only a relatively small band that goes through those eyes, power points, that is left, As they say, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. WillEK