Royal favourite Seago is back in fashion

A major retrospective is planned for autumn. Andrew Johnson reports

Sunday 20 July 2008 00:00 BST
(Getty Images)

He was England's precursor to Jack Vettriano: self-taught, wildly popular in his day and with more than one royal seal of approval. But like Scots-born Vettriano, Edward Seago has been overlooked by the critics.

Now, more than 30 years after his death, the work of the Norfolk artist, a favourite of the Queen Mother, George VI and the Duke of Edinburgh, is to be reappraised with a major retrospective planned for September. It will coincide with a TV documentary series presented by Selina Scott.

Seago, a post-impressionist, was famous for landscapes as diverse as Norfolk's beaches and the Antarctic. When his paintings went on sale, queues formed outside his Bond Street dealer and buyers were rationed to one work each.

The Queen Mother bought so many that eventually the artist, who died in 1974, gave her two a year – on her birthday and at Christmas. Prince Philip invited him on a tour of the Antarctic in 1956, and his subsequent paintings, considered to be among his best, hang at Balmoral.

Four Antarctic paintings have been loaned by the Duke to the private gallery mounting the exhibition. Others have come from the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery and from private collectors.

"He was the son of a coal merchant and lived all his life in Norfolk and was self-taught," said Jeremy Taylor who is organising the retrospective at the Colnaghi gallery in west London. "In terms of commissions, he was the most successful artist of his day. He became a war artist in Italy during the Second World War and spent two years with General Alexander. George VI asked for a portrait, and that made him very fashionable."

Peter Nahum, an expert in British art, said that Seago had been ignored by the critics because he hadn't embraced the avant-garde.

"Seago's brush strokes and versatility with light are excellent," he said.

"His Antarctic works are quite beautiful; it is very difficult to catch the light down there. To catch the eye of the critics, however, you have to lift yourself out of the traditional."

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