Another post in my series of short biographies about artists and writers inspired by Nature and the Countryside: Allen W. Seaby (1867-1953), watercolorist, woodcut artist, author, and illustrator.
Allen Seaby was born in London on May 25, 1867, the son of a cabinet maker and carpenter. He studied color woodcut with Frank Morley Fletcher, a pioneer in England of woodblock color printing by Japanese methods, at the School of Art, Reading University. Seaby joined the staff of the University of Reading in 1899 where he became professor of fine art and later head of the art department.
Like many children growing up in the post-war years I loved Seaby’s illustrations of birds and ponies. I treasured his two Ladybird books on British birds by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald: British Birds and their Nests (1953) and A Second Book of British Birds and their Nests (1954), and still have them today.
And "nobody could fail to be impressed by his beautifully natural illustrations in such books as Skewbald: The New Forest Pony (1923), or Exmoor Lass (1928) - six short stories exploring the lives of five of Britain’s native pony breeds: the Exmoor, the Shetland, the New Forest, the Dartmoor and the Welsh Mountain pony.
He once wrote - ‘Although I know it is an unpractical, uneconomic attitude, I myself am more interested in the pony on his native heath, untrammelled and free to go where he pleases.’
He was an outstanding watercolorist, woodcut artist, author, and illustrator. He mastered the techniques of color woodcut and became one of its leading exponents. He won a gold medal for color woodcut in Milan in 1906 and was a founding member of the Engravers and Printers in Colour and the Colour Print Guild.
But he is probably best known - in ornithological circles at least, for his illustrations of birds especially Kirkman, F.B. and Jourdain, F.C.R. (1910–1913) The British Bird Book. Vols. 1–4. London: T.C. and E.C. Jack. And of course those Ladybird books on British Birds.
Seaby’s obituary in The Times (30 July 1953: 8) paid tribute above all to his ability to synthesise art and nature:
His ability to create delightfully varied colour-harmonies, when painting birds, often achieved by painting the backgrounds on linen, mean his prints are among the most desirable of their kind; his work bridges ‘the gap between fine art and so called "wildlife art". He had an extraordinary ability to synthesise art and nature: his "studies of wildlife" are significant for the way in which "naturalistic truth is combined with decorative disposition".
His name and art lives on through his grandson, the noted wildlife illustrator and printmaker, Robert Gillmor, and his great granddaughter, Emily Gillmor, who is a great champion of his and her fathers art.