The Henry Williamson Society

Henry Williamson, by Edward Seago

Henry Williamson, by Edward Seago

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Postcard of Edward Seago's 1942 portrait of Henry Williamson (pack of 10)

Edward Seago's portrait of Henry Williamson forms a part of the National Portrait Gallery's collection, and this postcard was published by the Gallery. The Society obtained a quantity of these many years ago, but this is the first time that they have been offered through our website.

Oil on canvas, the original measures 76.3 x 63.5 cm, and was painted in 1942: Seago and HW became friends after the latter moved to North Norfolk in 1937. The portrait was reproduced in black and white in Seago's Peace in War (Collins, 1943), where he has this to say:

[Henry's] passion for truth was even brought to bear on the painting of my portrait. I wanted it to be an outdoor portrait, with a rod in his hands and sky behind him. To do this Henry said we would have to go to a stream, preferably a Devon stream, on a hot summer day, and then we should get the real atmosphere for the picture. he was right, of course, but we couldn't, and stream or no stream I wanted to paint the picture. I produced a rod indoors, and suggested that he should stand with it in his hands. He protested that at least we should go outside in the sun, so we took the paints and easel into the garden.

I completed the head in one sitting, and was afraid to touch it again. But Henry was particular about the hands and the rod, and also about his little pipe, the shortest I have ever seen. He calls it his "fishing pipe," and he had it made specially, because a longer one got in the way when he smacked at the horseflies on his face. He says he killed scores on his cheeks and chin without disturbing his pipe, but the trout would not eat them when they dropped into the water, flowing away behind his heron-like stance in the stream. There is a great difference, he declared, between a blood-sucking horsefly and the authentic waterflies risen, Aphrodite-like, from the pure water. Those flies neither eat nor drink, and dance away their life in one day and die with the sunset. . . .

A few days later, when we were over at his farm, he showed us his favourite trout-rod, weighing only two ounces. He pieced it together, and we took it outside to feel its perfect balance and make imaginary casts. That afternoon in his studio, with its books and scythe and hoes and neatly built-up rows of thorn-logs felled by himself and cut up on his circular saw, we sat smoking his home-grown tobacco, and I made a study of his hands and the rod. Afterwards I copied them into the portrait.




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