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Edward Seago: The Antarctic paintings

Edward Seago: The Antarctic paintings

18th May - 7th July 2005

'Antarctic Icebergs' © The Estate of Edward Seago
'Antarctic Icebergs' © The Estate of Edward Seago

During the 1956-57 Antarctic summer, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh made a tour of the Falkland Islands and Dependencies aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. The royal party was accompanied by invited guests, including the Norfolk artist Edward Seago, R.B.A, R.W.S.

Seago's vivid series of Antarctic landscapes and seascapes are some of the finest ever to depict the continent. Twenty-five of the pictures painted during the Antarctic leg of the voyage were displayed at the Institute, by kind permission of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

The light, shade and subtle colouring of the Antarctic are clearly brought out in many of the paintings. The halo-like effect over one iceberg, where the sun is shining through a layer of sea fog, is an obvious example in Seago's paintings. Seago is known to have worked on this particular canvas for some time before achieving the effect to his satisfaction. The Antarctic atmosphere, so clear because of the lack of particles and pollutants, allows mountains that are sometimes tens of kilometres distant to be seen in crystal clear light. Although the seas and coastline of Antarctica contain much wildlife, Seago chose to paint rather few images of the marine and terrestrial fauna. Seago's preference of subject was clearly landscape and seascape, with the vessels on which he travelled used in some cases for scale. In fact, only whales, and in one case several sledge dogs at one of the bases he visited, are depicted. Two paintings show aspects of whaling, which was still very active in Antarctic waters in the 1950s.

By the later 1950s, bases for meteorological observations and other scientific experiments were already established in a number of parts of Antarctica and adjacent islands. The party visited several of the British bases operated by the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS) during this period. Base F later became the British station Faraday. It is now known as Vernadsky and is operated by the Ukraine.

The only settlements visited and painted by Seago were Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands and Leith and Grytviken on the island of South Georgia (Fig. Ga-b). Stanley is today a town of 1,500 people. The two South Georgia harbours have been abandoned since the visit of HMY Britannia because whaling, their main activity, no longer takes place. There are no non-scientific centres of population in Antarctica itself.

Edward Seago (1910-1974) and his Antarctic paintings

Edward Brian ['Ted'] Seago was born in March 1910 in Norwich. He spent much of his early life in rural Norfolk, from which he drew his principal inspiration. He was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1946, made an Associate of the Royal Society of Watercolour Painters in 1957 and a full member of the Society in 1959. Having come to the attention of the royal family at the 1949 exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, he was one of the artists officially invited to paint the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1952.

Seago was invited to stay at Sandringham each January and July for the next 21 years, where the Duke, himself a keen artist, often watched Seago painting and sketching. In 1956-57, he accompanied the Duke of Edinburgh on his tour of Antarctica. Prince Philip was keen to offer Seago the opportunity, available at that time to very few artists, to paint in that environment.

Seago at work in the AnatarcticAs a landscape artist in the Impressionist tradition, Seago responded to Antarctica with an attempt to capture the rapid changes of light, producing over 30 paintings showing the icebergs and other physical phenomena, bases and men at work, and the whalers who were active at that time.

Seago's work in Antarctica shows his early preference for painting from life and differs from his later landscape technique, developed after his travels in the Far East in 1962. In his later work, he began to make pencil sketches and colour notes which were worked up in the studio. Seago said that he made the change because he did not want to be considered merely a topographer. However, it is just this topographic eye, coupled with Seago's ability to capture the atmosphere, as well as the exact detail of a particular scene, which makes the record of his Antarctic voyage so valuable today.

A fully illustrated catalogue to accompany this exhibition is available from the Museum Shop.

The Museum
Scott Polar Research Institute
University of Cambridge
Lensfield Road
Cambridge CB2 1ER

For further information, please call 01223 336540.