A group of people stand on a dock watching a fleet of four–mast sailing ships glide down the River Tagus and into the Atlantic Ocean. The Bacalhoeiros ships, known as ‘luggers’, were common to Portuguese cod fishing fleets during the 1940s and 1950s, and this painting by Edward Seago, possibly depicts the traditional blessing of the fleet as they depart Lisbon. Historically a maritime city, Portugal’s 15th century global exploration transformed Lisbon into a wealthy trade centre, and the Tagus remained an important industrial shipping route, and a focal point for the Portuguese fishing industry.
Seago visited Portugal every year from 1952 to 1955. Later in life, his Portuguese pictures apparently always reminded him of an accident he sustained in Lisbon when a sailor, running head down through the rain, collided with him, knocking him unconscious. The collision resulted in Seago being admitted to the British hospital in Lisbon with a fractured cheekbone.
Although this work of art is executed in oil, Seago is better known for his watercolours, and his economic and skilful handling of that medium. He often utilised the colour of the paper, together with translucent, thin washes to capture the impression of bright sunlight, heightened by the deft application of rich, dark colours in strong contrast. In this painting Seago used a similar technique to watercolour, using a sparse colour range and similar impressionistic brushwork. Charles, Prince of Wales, who recalled visiting Seago during his childhood and adolescence, marvelled at the way in which with a few brushstrokes and washes the artist could conjure up sky, water and a Thames barge in a landscape painted from memory.
Edward Seago is widely regarded as one of Britain's finest 20th century Impressionist painters. He was born in Norwich in 1910, the son of a local coal merchant. Although he was largely self-taught, he received some training at the Royal Drawing Society where he won an award at the age of 14. In his youth, he spent much time touring with circuses in Britain, Ireland and in Europe. During the Second World War, he served in the Royal Engineers in Italy with Field-Marshal Lord Alexander, and often painted while in service. In 1957, an exhibition of his work was held at St James's Palace consisting of pictures painted during the Duke of Edinburgh's world tour. His work is represented in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; The Royal Collection, London, and Norwich Castle Museum.
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