Thomas Seddon (1821 - 1856)



June 30, 2005
London, United Kingdom

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Description: signed with monogram l.l.

watercolour over pencil heightened with bodycolour and stopping out


This is a rare work by Seddon, the pupil and friend of William Holman Hunt and dates from his visit to Egypt and the Holy Land with Hunt in 1853. Seddon started his working life in his father's firm of cabinet-makers but finding that this of little interest to him, he turned to landscape painting in the late 1840s. In North Wales in 1849, he began his first real landscape studies which he continued at Barbizon the following year. In 1853, hearing that Hunt was planning a visit to Egypt, he asked to join him and set off ahead of Hunt, arriving in Alexandria on 6th December 1853. He continued to Cairo where he stayed in the Williams' Indian Family Hotel and met Hunt there in late January. Seddon met Edward Lear who was staying in the same hotel, but Lear had left by the time Hunt arrived.

Seddon settled easily into the Egyptian way of life. Hunt complained of his friendliness to the Egyptians and his habit of wearing native dress: 'His devout admiration of the Arabs is perfectly exasperating. They are the meanest sneaks in the world and he never tires of praising them. His adoption of the costume is simply amusing... (see George P. Landow, Your good influence on me- The Correspondence of John Ruskin and William Holman Hunt, 1977, pp.25-26). Board and lodging at the hotel cost seven shillings a day but life in the desert was cheaper and they lived off snipe and plovers which they shot. In mid February they camped near the Sphinx for several days but this was not to Hunt's liking and he soon returned to Cairo, while Seddon stayed on for almost two months, living in a tomb behind the Sphinx.

In April they travelled down the eastern branch of the Nile on a diabeyah on their way to Jerusalem. They worked on their watercolours and would swim in the river when the heat became too much. They spent six months in Jerusalem - Seddon spent much of the time living under canvas working on a large panorama of Jerusalem which he later exhibited entitled 'Jerusalem and the Valley of Jehoshaphat'. Seddon felt grateful at having spent so much time with Hunt - he wrote to Millais 'I think our intimacy is a most valuable and useful lesson to me, for which I may thank God, and by which I hope to profit much myself; for he has the courage to say openly what he thinks is right' (see John Guille Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, 1899, p.403).

On his return to London, he showed his work to Ruskin who reportedly told Seddon 'Before I saw these, I never thought it possible to attain such an effect of tone and light without sacrificing truth of colour' (see Robert Hewison, Ruskin, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites, 2000, p.211). He received a number of commissions for Egyptian subjects and returned there in 1856. However he tragically died of dysentery shortly after he arrived. His friends in London including Ruskin raised funds to help his widow and bought his large 'Jerusalem' panorama for the National Gallery. This was the first Pre-Raphaelite picture to enter the national collection.

After Seddon's death Ruskin wrote 'Mr Seddon's works are the first which represent a truly historic landscape art; that is to say, they are the first landscapes uniting perfect artistical skill with topographical accuracy, being directed with stern self-restraint to no other purpose than that of giving to persons who cannot travel trustworthy knowledge of the scenes which ought to be more interesting to them' (John Ruskin, speech to a meeting of the Seddon Memorial Committee, March 1857).

By 1870, Ruskin remembered Hunt and Seddon's Egyptian pictures with warmth: 'I do not know an entirely faithful drawing of any historical site, except one of two studies made by enthusiastic young painters in Palestine and Egypt: for which, thanks to them always' (lecture on 'The Relation of Art to Use', March 1870)
Dimensions: 19 by 35.5 cm., 7 1/2 by 14 in.
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Watercolours & Portrait Minatures

June 30, 2005, 12:00 AM EST

London, United Kingdom