Far too many accomplished and famous British artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have all but vanished. One of the difficulties with trying to build a history of British Impressionist painting is that many of the names are just blanks: one or two tantalising works now in public collections, such as the Tate, the rest lost without trace to private collections.
I had a stroke of luck with Algernon Talmage (1871–1939), who also served as a war artist in the Great War. Among his tasks when painting in northern France was to cover the work of the Canadian Veterinary Services in caring for the tens of thousands of horses who also served. A dozen of his paintings have thus found a home in the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, which has kindly made their images available.
Algernon Mayow Talmage was thoroughly British, his ancestors being Cornish, although he was brought up in Oxfordshire, the son of the vicar of Fifield. A childhood accident damaged one of his hands, so when he came to learn to paint under Hubert von Herkomer in 1892, he had to work with the other. After his training, he moved to Saint Ives in Cornwall, where he became a member of the artist’s colony. He taught there, and among his students was the Canadian artist Emily Carr. In 1900, he co-founded the Cornish School of Landscape, Figure and Sea Painting, together with Julius Olsson, whose haunting maritime nocturnes are distinctive. Sadly, few of Olsson’s paintings remain accessible today.
Talmage had his first solo exhibition at the Goupil Gallery in London in 1909. When the Great War broke out five years later, because of his old hand injury, he was exempted from military service, but he was engaged as a war artist. After 1917, he painted in the area of the Cambrai front, and was commissioned to paint two works for the Canadian War Memorials Fund on the strength of his accomplishments as a landscape and animal artist. He was attached to a Canadian Mobile Veterinary Unit, and painted at least a dozen oil sketches of their work in caring for sick and wounded horses.
During 1918, Talmage was near the Drocourt–Quéant Line, where on 2-3 September Canadian and British troops attacked and captured the major German ‘Hindenburg’ defensive line. Most of these paintings appear to have their origins during that period.
At their greatest, the Canadian Corps had more than 23,500 horses supporting their forces. Talmage’s paintings are a tribute to their hard working lives, and the care they received from the Canadian Veterinary Services in very demanding conditions. Mobile veterinary units administered first aid to horses, and evacuated them back by train to animal hospitals, much in the way that soldiers were cared for.
In the Mud (1917-19)
Camp at Agny (1918)
The Blacksmith’s Shop (1918)
Wounded Horses (1918)
At an Evacuating Station (1918)
Mobile Veterinary Unit in France (1917-19)
Mobile Veterinary Unit in France also known as The Road to Henin (1919), then only large finished painting of this group, and presumably one of the two commissioned works.
The Sulphur Dip for Mange (1917-19)
Convalescents in the Corral (1918)
Feeding Mules in the Corral (1917-19)
In the last couple of years of his life, Talmage painted another work which has survived for very different reasons.
The Founding of Australia by Capt. Arthur Phillip R.N. Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788 (1937) is an oil study for his much larger finished painting (now in the Tate Gallery) showing the Governor (centre) proposing the loyal toast to King George III on the day that the British fleet moved from Botany Bay to Sydney Cove, a founding moment in the history of Australia. This was commissioned to celebrate their 150th anniversary.
If only we had access to more of Talmage’s paintings.