Edward Seago was born in Norwich in 1910, the son of a coal merchant. Aged seven he developed a heart complaint so, whilst bedridden for several years he took to painting scenes from his bedroom window to help pass the time. His parents, who were ambitious for him to pursue a career in business, discouraged his obvious burgeoning talent. However, on recovering Seago studied briefly at the Royal Drawing School where he received a prize in recognition of his talent. Whilst there he was taught landscape painting by Bertram Priestman and the only official art training he had.
Seago served in the Royal Engineers in World War II. When he was invalided out in 1944 he was invited instead to record the Italian Campaign in paint. In 1953 he was made official artist of the Coronation in public recognition of his remarkable association with the Royal Family. Prince Charles was “totally captivated by the unique way in which he could convey atmosphere on canvas and by the living texture of his paintings”, when he saw Seago’s work at a show at St James’ Palace in 1956.
As a young man Seago had joined a circus in reaction to his childhood confinement. Travelling provided material for many early paintings, as well as two illustrated books chronicling circus life. Seago continued to travel throughout his life, later often sailing in his own yacht, but he always returned to the “cool greens and greys” of his East Anglian home in Ludham on the Norfolk broads.
His were among the first exhibitions for which people queued, notably at Colnaghi’s in 1945 and then at Marlborough Fine Art, while other prestigious galleries the world over have successfully exhibited Seago’s work ever since.
The level of worldwide popularity is all the more remarkable when one often reads of Seago being described as a very english painter. True, he was brought up in East Anglia, studied under Sir John Arnesby Brown and embraced many of the values of the Norwich School painters; but, as James Reid, his biographer, has said, 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.
This innovative interpretation, applied to landscapes around the world, relied on a wonderfully fluid and refreshing use of paint. The work is recognisably spontaneous – a moment captured in oil or watercolour, retaining the essential mood of the occasion whether vibrant or reflective.
His mature paintings seek to capture atmosphere through his impressionistic style rather than pure topography. His works are open and uncluttered, utilising the simplicity of composition and brushstroke for personal expression and conveying his emotional responses to nature.
Seago’s art is very much in the tradition of English landscape paintings, influenced by Sir Alfred Munnings and Dame Laura Knight, but forging a lineage back to Constable and even to Gainsborough. In turn Seago has been very influential upon a later generation of artists, particularly East Anglian painters such as Ian Houston, whom he persuaded to change from bird to landscape paintings.
Edward Seago was one of the most popular and talented English landscape painters of the last century. His annual post-war exhibitions were always a great success and quickly sold out, and his work is still widely sought after