Algernon Mayow Talmage, RA RBA HRE ROI RWA (1871-1939)
Talmage is principally known as a painter of plein-air pastorals and equestrian subjects in a restrained yet sparkling Impressionist manner. During the First World War, he applied his passion for painting animals in landscape settings to his work as an official war artist for the Canadian Government. Algernon Talmage was born in Fifield, Oxfordshire, on 23 February 1871, the younger of the two sons of the Rev John Mayow Talmage, the Rector of Fifield and Idbury, and his second wife, Susan (née Penkivil). Both his mother and his paternal grandmother were of Cornish stock. During his childhood, he was involved in an accident with a gun, which crippled his right hand. As a result, he would paint with his left hand, and be exempted from active service in the First World War.
Little is known of Talmage’s early education, though it has been variously suggested that he spent a short time at university and that he had some experience as an actor.
However, he studied under Sir Hubert von Herkomer at his school of art in Bushey, Hertfordshire. Founded in 1883, the school allowed British artists to pursue an almost Continental training. The students were put to drawing heads from life and from life-casts, and every three months were allowed to try for entry into life classes, which consisted of drawing from nude models. The emphasis on studying from life, which Talmage received under Herkomer, provided him with the ability to become a versatile painter in the naturalistic tradition.
By 1888, Talmage and two of his fellow students, Arnesby Brown and William Titcomb, had discovered in St Ives, Cornwall, the familiar security of a small art colony such as that which they had known in Bushey. Along with such artists as Julius Olsson and Adrian Stokes, Talmage founded an Artists’ Club, which enabled these painters of the sea to meet and discuss different techniques for capturing the essence of the wild and rugged north coast of Cornwall. The Cornish coastline, made beautiful by the ever-changing light and moods of the sea, enabled Talmage to establish his characteristic mellow palette and enchanting use of light. For the most part, he painted plein-air landscapes and pastorals, and especially farming scenes including horses.
In 1896, Talmage married the Cornish artist, Gertrude Rowe, and together they had two daughters, Archie and Dorothy. In 1901, they were all living with Gertrude’s parents at 14 Draycott Terrace, St Ives.
By 1900, Talmage had established the Cornish School of Landscape, Figure and Sea Painting with Julius Olsson. Later, he and Gertrude ran their own school, with Olsson acting as a ‘visiting’ artist.
In 1907, Talmage separated from Gertrude and moved to London with his former pupil, Hilda Fearon (1878-1917), settling in Chelsea. In the following year, the critic, A G Folliott-Stokes, began to champion him in The Studio, and in 1909, wrote a glowing review of his first solo show, ‘London from Dawn to Midnight’, mounted by the Goupil Gallery. Since 1895, Talmage had been a regular contributor to the Summer Exhibitions of the Royal Academy of Arts, and his work was included in the exhibition of 1910, which Laura Wortley describes as marking the ‘highpoint of “British” Impressionism ... which hummed with “air and light”’ (British Impressionism. A Garden of Bright Images, London: The Studio Fine Art Publications, 1988, page 280). During this period, he was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists (1903) and the Royal Institute of Painters in Oils (1908).
The influence of French painting and landscape was important to Talmage. Travelling to the country on many occasions, he was in Provence from as early as 1894, and possibly in St Tropez as late as 1932. In 1918, he worked in the country as an official war artist for the Canadian Government, attached to the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. He exhibited successfully at the Paris Salon, winning a silver medal in 1913 and a gold medal in 1922. (He also won bronze and silver medals at the 1911 and 1920 Pittsburgh International Exhibitions of Contemporary Painting.)
Talmage was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1922, and a full Royal Academician seven years later. He was also elected to the Royal West of England Academy (by 1920), St Ives Society of Artists (in 1928) and – taking up etching in 1927 – the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers (initially as an associate and later an honorary member). Later solo shows include those held at the Fine Art Society in 1920 and the Leicester Galleries in 1924.
Late in life, Talmage shared his time between 49 Elgin Crescent, London, W11, and Sherfield English, near Romsey, Hampshire. He died at the latter on 14 September 1939.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Bushey Museum and Art Gallery, Kirklees Museums and Galleries, and the National Railway Museum (York); and the Canadian War Museum (Ottawa).
Further reading: Ian K Barker, ‘Letter to the Editor re War Artist Algernon Talmage’, Canadian Military History, October 2013, page 76 & inside back cover; Hugh A Halliday, ‘Algernon Mayow Talmage (1871-1939)’, Canadian Military History, Summer 2012, pages 59-63