Algernon Talmage was born in Fifield, Oxfordshire, on 23 February 1871, the second son of John Mayow Talmage by his second wife, Susan 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 suggested that he spent a short time at university. 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. By 1900, Talmage and Olsson had established the Cornish School of Landscape, Figure and Sea Painting. 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, Talmage painted plein-air landscapes and pastorals, and had a passion for painting farming scenes including horses. The later commissions he received from the Canadian Government as an official war artist in France, during the First World War, would allow him to indulge this passion.
Settling in Chelsea in 1907, Talmage held his first solo show two years later at the Goupil Gallery. He was a regular contributor to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, including 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). He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1922, and an Academician seven years later.
Talmage was also elected to the Royal Society of British Artists (1903), the Royal Institute of Painters in Oils (1908), St Ives Society of Artists (1928-39), the Royal West of England Academy and the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers (initially as an associate and later an honorary member).
The influence of French painting and landscape was important to Talmage. He exhibited successfully at the Paris Salon, winning a silver medal in 1913 and a gold medal in 1922. 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.
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 Bushey Museum and Art Gallery, Kirklees Museums and Galleries, and the National Railway Museum (York).