The County of Norfolk is synonymous with the name of Edward Seago. It was here that he was born, spent most of his working life, and drew his principal inspiration. The tradition of the Norwich School artists, such as Cotman and Crome, was upheld by Seago in his many views of East Anglia which went far beyond mere topographical representation. It is these paintings which capture Seago at his best, though in all his work there is a spontaneity which contributed to his popularity throughout the world.
Seago 's childhood, and much of his early life, was plagued by heart complaints. The recurrent illness kept him away from school; the many hours at home spent not in study were filled with sketching from his bedroom window. Seago's parents were against his artistic leanings and tried to convince him that a career in business was a better course to follow. This lack of encouragement probably both increased his desire to fulfil his goal and drove him subconsciously to use the illness as a device to achieve what he wanted. He was largely self-taught though did not shirk from introducing himself to artists from whom he felt he would learn something. Seago sought reassurance and encouragement from all he met in an attempt to set off his childhood discouragements; the popularity he was to gain later went a long way towards this, though Seago always felt bitter about the lack of critical attention his work received.
In the period up to the Second World War Seago was constantly finding new interests to distract him and to follow. He had an ability to make friends easily which helped him to find acceptance in the many differing societies that made up England before the war. At the age of eighteen Seago joined Bevin's Travelling Circus, a connection that was to remain for many years. Like Laura Knight and AlfredMunnings he was attracted by the glamour and theatrical life of the circus; producing numerous works that were to culminate in two books relating his experiences: Circus Company (1933) and Sons of Sawdust (1934). During this period Seago was to meet one of his most influential patrons: Henry Mond, 2nd Lord Melchett. Seago was invited to the Melchett's country estate, Woodfalls, where at numerous parties he met many celebrities, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Augustus John amongst others.
Lord Melchett's patronage brought material security to Seago; he was treated like a member of the family, told to stay at Woodfalls whenever he wanted and encouraged to broaden his painting horizons. The many foreign trips that Seago was taken on drew him away from the circus and sporting pictures that were his principal source of income. A visit to Venice was to introduce Seago to the Ballet, and to a new consuming interest. He travelled to Monte Carlo and New York in 1937 to follow the ballet, striking up a friendship with Anton Dolin which enabled him to paint the world's greatest dancers. This period of work resulted in the publication of Tribute to Ballet (1938), one of several books written with the poet John Masefield, in which his paintings inspired by the Ballet were illustrated. Seago repaid Lord Melchett's kindness by painting two large family portraits in 1935 and 1937. The second portrait depicts Henry Mond, Lord Melchett's son, whom Seago helped to bring up and who was to become a close friend of the artist.
At the outbreak of the war Seago joined the Royal Engineers, being invalided out in 1944. At once Field Marshal Alexander invited him to Italy to record the Italian campaign, where he met many important leaders like Churchill, Macmillan and George VI who were later to act as his patrons. This commission marked an important watershed hi his career; after the war Seago was to concentrate on landscapes, though continuing to paint many portraits. The war paintings were exhibited at Colnaghi's in 1945; their success resulting in an annual show of his work at the Gallery until 1967. These exhibitions have gone down in art world folklore on account of their success; queues formed long before the doors opened, numbered catalogues having to be issued limiting any potential purchases to one, or else chaos ensued. Every exhibition was completely sold out within an hour of opening.
Seago continued to travel frequently abroad. In addition to Portugal, France and Italy during the 1950's he made an extensive world tour with the Duke of Edinburgh in 1956-57, which included Australia, West Africa and Antarctica. Then, in 1962, he travelled to the Far East, Seago changed his landscape technique, eschewing his earliest preference for painting from life, instead taking pencil sketches and colour notes which were worked upon in the studio. Seago said that he made the change because he did not want to be considered jus a topographer. The result was an increasing interest in the overall pattern of various shapes, catching atmosphere rather than exact detail of a particular scene. The paintings produced as a result of Seago's Far East Travels are designs of colourful shapes and patterns, which ideally capture the impression of the scene and demonstrate this change in technique.
Even with the lure of foreign travel, Seago never tired of painting his native East Anglia, adapting the impressionist technique to the English landscape tradition. The influence of Turner, Constable and Boudin are never far from his work. He was elected RBA in 1946, ARWS in 1957 and RWS in 1959. His paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy, other British exhibiting Societies, and at the Paris Salon. One-man exhibitions were held in many foreign cities including New York, Toronto, Oslo and Brussels.