Strudwick was born in Clapham and educated there at St Saviour's Grammar School. He studied art at South Kensington and at the Royal Academy Schools, but was not a successful student. He received his first encouragement from the Scottish artist John Pettie (1839-1893), whose fluent brushwork, typical of the pupils of Robert Scott Lauder at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh, he emulated for a time; but he only found his true direction in the early 1870s, when he became a temporary assistant first to Spencer Stanhope and then to Burne-Jones. Songs without Words (private collection), the picture with which he made his first and only appearance at the Royal Academy, in 1876, shows his style fully formed, and it underwent little development from then on.
Like so many of Burne-Jones's followers, Strudwick began to exhibit at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877, transferring to the New Gallery eleven years later. He enjoyed considerable success. Songs without Words was bought by Lord Southesk, a Scottish peer with antiquarian interests; A Golden Thread (1885) was acquired for the Chantrey Bequest as part of the RA's current campaign to woo the Burne-Jones school; and two wealthly Liverpool collectors, William Imrie and George Holt, became long-standing patrons. In April 1891 he was the subject of an article in the Art Journal by George Bernard Shaw. According to Shaw, Strudwick told him that 'he could not draw - never could', a failing that Shaw interpreted as 'a priceless gift', saving him from empty virtuosity. Shaw also recorded that the artist had 'a fine sense of humour', something one would hardly guess from his pictures, and that he had never visited Italy, although critics often complained that his pictures were mere pastiches of early Italian work.
Strudwick lived all his adult life in Hammersmith, not far from Burne-Jones and his fellow assistant in Burne-Jones's studio, T.M. Rooke. His daughter Ethel, born in 1880, was to become High Mistress of St. Paul's Girls' School, situated locally, in 1927. Strudwick was still contributing to the New Gallery when it held its last exhibition in 1909, but he seems to have ceased painting about this time although he lived on until 1937. His Times obituary described him as 'a beautiful old man ... (and) a charming personality, exceedingly kind to young artists.'
When The Gentle Music of a Byegone Day was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1890 it was described by F.G. Stephens in the Athenaeum as 'undoubtedly Mr Strudwick's best work.' True, he did not like 'the artist's Mantegnesque affectations of impossible draperies and artificial "airs"', but he admitted that 'the three lovely damsels seated at music with their instruments charm us by the dreamy tenderness of their expressions. There is much refined colour in the picture.'
Stephens's high opinion has been generally accepted. The picture is typical of Strudwick in subject, a group of girls making music, and exemplifies his tendency to see a painting as an elaborate piece of craftsmanship, rich in surface texture, linear pattern and jewelled tones. Seldom, however, does he achieve these effects so successfully. Working to a good scale, he gives the canvas an almost tapestry-like consistency, embroidering it from edge to edge with inventive detail and evolving the subtlest of chromatic harmonies, based on 'shot' colours. At the same time he avoids any sense of monotony by varying the linear rythms and subjecting the detail to a strong overall design. All the cultures are called into play; if the arch at upper left is late Gothic, the organ and cassone are Renaissance, the instrument played by the principal figure seems Eastern, and a touch of Celtic pattern is introduced at lower left. St. Cecilia appears on the organ shutters, Venus and Cupid are the subject of the nearest cassone panel, and the title of one of the songs in the music book, 'La Belle Dame sans Mercie' (sic), evokes thoughts of Keats. Even Strudwick's own name makes a minor contributuion to the decorative ensemble. He seldom signed his pictures, but the letters 'VISH' on the riser of the step beneath the foot of the central figure are surely an oblique signature, being part of his middle name, 'Melhuish'.
Strudwick's concern for decorative effect places him well within the context of the Aesthetic movement. So does his fondness for introducing the theme of music to set the emotional tone of his pictures and evoke a mood of wistful sadness. Their titles alone are significant; to the present example and the already mentioned Songs without Words could be added A Lute Player (1884), 'Thy music, faintly falling, dies away ...' (1893), St Cecilia (1897), Evensong (1898), A Symphony (1903) and others. Many painters involved in the movement sought to draw some sort of parallel between their art and music, consciously or otherwise fulfilling Walter Pater's famous dictum that 'all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music' since it is essentially abstract in nature. The most obvious example is Whistler, with his habit of calling his pictures 'Symphonies', 'Harmonies' or 'Nocturnes' to stress their self-sufficiency and lack of literary or anecdotal reference. Strudwick's approach was nearer to that of Burne-Jones, who was equally given to introducing music-making figures (Le Chant d'Amour, Laus Veneris, The Golden Stairs, etc.). This approach may have been more literal and less sophisticated than Whistler's, but in Burne-Jones's case it was certainly based on a much greater love and understanding of music than Whistler possessed. We cannot be so sure about Strudwick, whose career is all too poorly documented, but on the evidence of his pictures his feeling for music can hardly be doubted. It is also worth recalling that the one contemporary who left an account of him, George Bernard Shaw, was at the time a brilliant music critic.