Monday, January 21, 2019

The Poetic Landscape: Edward Seago

Edward Seago (1910-1974) was a traditional British landscape painter, known primarily for his oils and watercolors of beaches, big-sky landscapes, and street scenes. He began painting, sans formal training, under the spell of Alfred Munnings, best known to art historians as an anti-modernist painter of the British aristocracy and their horses.

Here Seago depicts the British landscape through the lens of the Dutch landscape painters of the 16th century.

So Dutch
Though he lived during the explosion of modern art in Europe, Seago saw from the phenomenal popularity in Britain of Constable and his heirs (particularly John Sell Cotman) that there was a lasting place for beloved representational artists of English landscapes. He learned from Munnings there existed a clear path to get there by endearing oneself to the Monarchy, which his charming and straightforward, unpretentious personality made easy. (The Prince of Wales wrote the introduction to the definitive book on Seago, written by James Russel, and published on the latest of several retrospectives in Britain in 2014. Queen Elizabeth bought so many paintings that he started giving her two every year as gifts. He also designed a silver hood ornament for the royal car, which is affixed to the hood in place of the Bently one whenever she's riding in it.)

His paintings take from Constable a sense of the somewhat ragged landscape under semi-tumultuous skies. However, many of his skies are much more dour, and his motifs remain true to 20th century Britain's war-wisened environs. 

What I like about him is that there's either a sense of brooding about his pictures or a somewhat lonely but breezy and refreshing sense of big air and light - in any case Seago made paintings that convey aspects of he artist's interior life. Like our other "poetic" painters, he's communicating through these paintings, turning landscapes into strong works of art by infusing them with felt personal vision rather than simply recording the light, shapes, etc.

Even when there's people in them, Seago's paintings focus on light and open space and convey something of that solitude he lived in (that, I would argue, had plenty to do with being a gay man when it was actually illegal to be so in Britain).

Portrait of Peter Seymore
Seago was gay during a difficult time to be anything but a mainstream conformist. He went through a series of "secretaries" he hired, who were also expected to support him emotionally and in every other way, until he found Peter Syemore, a 24 year-old former South African soldier who'd come to England to learn to paint. Seymore became Seago's lover, companion, and help-meet. 

A kickin Seago watercolor
In the late '50s, the Duke of Edinburgh (who painted as a hobby) invited Seago to accompany him on an expedition to the Arctic, where Seago produced what some feel are his finest pictures.

The Duke of Edinburgh painting on the deck of the HM Yacht Britannia. 

Enjoy the rest of the images and as always, click for larger versions, and some quite high res. Sorry no titles or dates - they're all in the 20x30 range. Things to look for: they're loose as hell yet tight, even sharp, where they need to be, compositions often favor a dominant, off-center object near the middle of the painting to balance the rest around, and he creates a good amount of ambient atmosphere with loose, subtle dabs and streaks.