George Edward Lodge was born in December 1860 at Horncastle, Lincolnshire, the seventh son of Canon Samuel Lodge, and a cousin of the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge. From an early age, the young George showed an interest in both art and natural history, spending hours observing and sketching from nature. He also learnt how to prepare bird skins for mounting, and this careful observation and experience in taxidermy gave him a detailed understanding of avian anatomy, while his knowledge was further enhanced by an interest in falconry. George was not the only budding naturalist in the family; his brother Reginald later became a pioneer of bird photography. The two boys would apparently roam the Lincolnshire fens and wolds pushing a large plate camera in a wheelbarrow, though George himself never worked from photographs.
George's early talent was recognised as exceptional by his family and he was sent to Lincoln School of Art where he won fourteen prizes for drawing. At sixteen, he was apprenticed to Whymper's, the leading London wood engravers. Examples of his work in this field can be seen in W H Hudson's "British Birds" published in 1896,which includes a hundred of his wood engravings.
During his time in London, Lodge was often seen with a hawk on his wrist as he felt that the noise and bustle of the city were the best place to accustom the bird to any distraction, making it more effective in the field. An active member of the Old Hawking Club, he was also an excellent shot, winning trophies for marksmanship during his time as a member of the Army Volunteer Reserve, City of London.
Later years saw him fully established as a versatile artist and illustrator, sketching animals in London Zoo, grouse and pheasant in the Highlands and gulls and eagles in Scandinavia. Lodge was particularly fond of Scotland and Norway, habitats of the hawks which were always his chief interest. However, he recorded birds from many other parts of the world, including the Middle East, and his travels took him as far afield as Japan, Ceylon, the West Indies and the United States. (A collection of previously unpublished paintings of New Zealand birds were brought into print in "George Edward Lodge - Unpublished Paintings" by C A Fleming, published by Michael Joseph in 1983).
Lodge was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy from 1881 to 1917. Many of his peers considered him the equal of Archibald Thorburn, probably the best known-avian artist in history. Each admired of the other's work and they maintained a friendly acquaintance, tinged with a little gentle rivalry.
In 1920 George moved with his sister and niece Brenda to a house in (Upper) Park Road, Camberley, which he named "Hawk House". The studio where he painted, pipe clamped between his teeth, was described as by a local reporter as "a collector's treasure of preserved birds - hawks, falcons and almost every variety of British bird", all crammed in alongside paintings, stuffed birds, eggs and cabinet specimens.
When Camberley and District Natural History Society was established in 1946 George Lodge and Field Marshall Lord Allanbrooke were made joint Vice-Presidents. Some examples of his taxidermy which passed to the Society after his death are now in the collections at Surrey Heath Museum.
His work appears in many publications, including "The British Bird Book" by F B Kirkman, but he is most famous for illustrating D A Bannerman's "Birds of the British Isles", which appeared in 12 volumes between 1953 - 63. He began this work at the age of 82, completing it in his 92nd year and in all produced illustrations for 389 plates depicting 426 species of bird, each painted against an appropriate background; an incredible feat of skill, patience and dedication. Despite failing eyesight he continued to sketch the birds in his garden in his last year. He was also Vice President of The British Ornithologist's Union, the only bird painter to be so honoured. His autobiography, "Memoirs of an Artist Naturalist", was published in 1946.
George Lodge is remembered locally as an attractive and kindly personality, with a twinkle in his eye, and without airs and graces, despite his formidable achievements. He often dressed in plus fours which, with his snowy white beard, led a local reporter to describe him as "almost Shavian in appearance". This visual comparison with George Bernard Shaw apparently did not meet with his approval! A craftsman as well as an artist he could, when necessary, produce his own picture frames, and made some of the equipment for his hawking activities. Even in his eighties he managed to knit over 300 scarves for RAF pilots during the Second World War!
George Lodge died in February 1954 at the age of 93. His obituary for the "Camberley News" was written by naturalist and broadcaster Maxwell Knight:
The death last week of Mr George E Lodge, who was in his ninety-fourth year, will be lamented by all who knew him personally, and by many more who knew him only through his painting....
For well over half a century he could justly be acclaimed as one of the world's leading bird artists; and at the peak of his powers there was no one equal to him on the depicting of game birds and birds of prey - the latter, perhaps being his personal favourites.
In his painting he excelled where many of his contemporaries failed in that he could paint a picture of a bird and its habitat which would satisfy the most exacting requirements from a purely illustrative point of view; yet he could also contrive a "picture" in the truest sense of the word - one which even those with no claim to being ornithologists would be glad to hang on their walls.
George Lodge was a man of indomitable spirit; for when his sight began to fail and his health was by no means good, his mind remained as active as ever. In spite of his age and handicap he kept at his painting, in some measure, right up to the end.
It is not only as a first class bird artist that we should recall Mr Lodge, for he was the most kindly man - always ready to help and advise aspiring young artists, or to give assistance to novice naturalists from out of his seemingly limitless fund of experience in all things pertaining to wild life.
He will always be remembered as a great painter of birds, but at the same time he will remain in the minds of those privileged to know him personally as an English gentleman of fine and generous character.
Though he is most famous for his ornithological work, Lodge was a fine all-round naturalist with a great interest in reptiles, insects, butterflies and moths. His entomological collection is held at Bristol Museum, while some of his paintings and sketches are held by the Natural History Museum. A small selection of paintings and specimens are held in the collections of Surrey Heath Museum. These are fragile but available for researchers by appointment, and are also exhibited on occasion. His work has been promoted and preserved by the Tryon Gallery, London, which has been of great assistance in the establishment of a new George Lodge Trust.
Surrey Heath Museum and the George Lodge Trust plan to mount an exhibition about George Lodge's life and work at the Museum in 2010, the 150th anniversary of his birth.