Edward Seago was a popular artist, led an interesting life and knew well circus performers as well as the Royal Family but sadly the biography by Jean Goodman does him little justice. It is billed as as a wider canvas drawing on the writings of his brother John a humane trapper of animals in Kenya. Edward Seago suffered from a weak heart all his life, having frequent attacks which totally debilitated him. This did not deter him from his successful career as an artist and serving as a RAF officer throughout the war.
He had an uncanny gift of attracting patronage from the great and the good. This began with his first patron Lady Jones who aided his beginning as an artist; Lord Harewood, a cousin of the Queen, then helped his burgeoning career; Lord Alexander of Tunis, an accomplished painter, appointed him war artist in his Italian campaign; Prince Philip invited him on board Britannia to cruise and paint Antarctica; Rab Butler, a scion of the Conservatve party and whose father in law founded the Courtauld Institute, was a regular visitor to Seago’s home The Dutch House; so was Noel Coward, of whom he painted a fine portrait. Yet one never quite gleaned from the book where his attraction lay other than being a popular artist. He was evidently good company but often depressed to receive popular, not critical, acclaim and never made a Royal Academician unlike his mentor Alfred Munnings, yet Seago has been called the best East Anglian artist since Constable.
His biographer too is rather reticent about informing the reader he was homosexual and we are left to ponder the nature of his relationship with circus boy Baker, the RAF officer Bernard Clegg, both who died young, and whose passing profoundly affected Seago. Like many gays of his time, a relationship was disguised with his so called secretary, in this case Peter Seymour, who proved to be his most enduring companion. Oddly having gained the confidence of the brother he doesn’t provide further detail, perhaps he was reluctant to do so and preferred to talk about his wild life work in Kenya. Again one would have liked more on Seago’s suffocating relationship with his mother and why his parents were so unsupportive of his artistic career when he established himself quickly. His work was so coveted that the gallery that represented him Colnaghi had admirers queuing outside in Bond St from 5-30 am to acquire a picture. The Queen Mother collected so many that he had to confine her to 2 a year.
Possibly the greatest weakness of the biography is its inability to convey the quality of his art. He had an uncanny ability to retain detail in his head but one would have like more on his technique, use of colour and versatility, as he could his paint beloved Norfolk and a revealing portrait of the late Donald Sinden with equal aplomb. Why did he in the end order his Executors, one of whom – Edward Tsui – was a Chinese street urchin he befriended in Hong Kong and who, thanks to Seago, had a successful career in the west, to destroy a third of his studio after his death?
Too much is left unexplained about a fascinating man and accomplished artist.