Thursday, 27 June 2013

Edward Seago and St Benet's Abbey

Edward Seago, St Benet's Abbey, watercolour
Earlier this week I was in Norfolk, a county I've visited every year or so, I think for ever. As a youngster I remember sitting in lengthy traffic jams on the A47 to Swaffham and this time I spent a long time staring at Thetford Forest as roadbuilding machines came and went. Once the work is finished we'll have dual carriageway all the way from London to Norwich, and then where will we be?

Anyway, I was there partly to visit the painting grounds of Edward Seago, a 20th century British landscape painter who is best known for his association with the Royal family. I'm writing the text for a new book which I hope will both communicate something of Seago's fascinating character and remarkable life, and show the range and beauty of his work.

Edward Seago, St Benet's Marsh, Evening Haze, oil 
An admirer of Constable and Cotman at a time when Picasso and Matisse set the fashion, the maverick traditionalist was never able to convince the RA of his worth, but his best work stays in the mind. He was a skilful oil painter who knew all the tricks of the trade, and a brilliant watercolourist.

John Sell Cotman, St Benet's Abbey
Born in Norwich and raised in the countryside south of the city, Seago travelled widely but lived for the last twenty-five years of his life in Ludham, a village in the Broads but not on a Broad - and so relatively undeveloped. Naturally he painted a great deal in the vicinity, particularly on St Benet's Marsh, an expanse of farmland bordering the River Bure and surrounding the distinctive ruin of St Benet's Abbey.

John Sell Cotman, St Benet's Abbey, oil
This is actually two ruins in one, the first being a medieval monastery and the second an 18th century windmill that incorporates part of the abbey walls. John Sell Cotman drew and painted the site when the windmill was in use, and Seago did the same after its abandonment.

Edward Seago, St Benet's Abbey, oil
Today a programme is underway to improve access to the site, which is still visited by the Bishop of Norwich every year (he travels, fittingly, by wherry). The cattle are the same white or brown animals Seago painted, and the willows and wildflowers and much the same too.

Red sails and white still seem to sail across the fields although, as you approach the river, you see the extraordinary array of craft, from canoes to pleasure cruisers, that ply the Broads today.

Inside, I found lots of names and dates carved into the soft stonework. I suppose these must now be part of the fabric of the Ancient Monument and are, as such, protected from harm.

Edward Seago's paintings remain the copyright of his estate, which is represented by The Portland Gallery.


  1. I very much enjoy Seago's work...and as someone who sailed the Broads in the sixties the sight of St. Benet's Abbey lifted my spriites.

    I don't comment...but I enjoy your blog very much indeed

  2. Stephen Barker28 June, 2013

    I have often wondered how much time people spent in the past carving their name into the stonework of ruins and what they used to do it? Some of the lettering is quite deeply incised and in some cases very well done.

    I enjoyed looking at works by Cotman, one of my favourites.

  3. Thank you Helen and Stephen - interesting to think about people carving names... I wonder if Byron set the trend by carving his name on a pillar at the Greek temple of Sounion? There are people who study this phenemenon, and books about it...

  4. I love the wok of Cotman and Edward Seago My favourite artists