Our current exhibition The Art of Sidney Sime: Artist & Philosopher reveals one of the early 20th century's busiest artists, with a varied career that included illustration, painting and caricatures. Desribed as one of the greatest imaginative artists since Blake, Sime remains relatively unknown to a wider audience, so on this week's blog we had a chat with Mary Broughton from The Sidney Sime Gallery in Worplesdon to find out more about the man himself.

For those who haven’t heard of him, could you give us a brief explanation of who Sidney Sime was?

Born in 1865, he was an illustrator, artist, humorist, poet, scholar, Master of the Mysterious and considered a philopsopher by some. His life reads like a Victorian novel: from the poverty and hardship of five years as a lad working down the pits, to an emergence of great talent and formal training at the Liverpool School of Art. He became a celebrity as an illustrator and clubman, collaborating and becoming a close friend of both his two patrons, Lord Dunsany and Lord Howard de Walden. He had a reclusive existence later in life whilst painting brilliant caricatures of the locals in the pub in Worplesdon! 

Sime's sketch books at The Art of Sidney Sime © The Lightbox

Sime wore many creative hats, from magazine illustrator to landscape painter. Why do you think his career was so varied?

I cannot answer this completely accurately, but probably it was only to earn some sort of a living that he became an illustrator. He later referred to them in a letter to his friend and composer Joseph Holbrooke, as 'the worst possible form of publication'! His desire was always to become free as an artist.

Sidney Sime's caricatures © The Lightbox

Why are his works significant for the local Surrey area?

He would have long philosphical discussions with (Woking-based author) HG Wells, hence being described as a philosopher by some, such as Lady Dunsany. I personally believe he would hate to be described thus as he hated the limelight of any sort (including this exhibition probably!) After 6 years in Scotland, Sime missed the London scene, and so moved to Worplesdon with his wife Mary, with easy access to London, from 1904 to his death in 1940.

While in Worplesdon in the 20's and early 30's he drew many of the local characters who frequented the New Inn pub (on site of current White Lyon and Dragon). These caricatures are very appealing and amusing. Our Curator Anne Philps knew Mary Sime, herself a talented miniaturist, who was rather shy and nervy but did involve herself more in the village. We hope there might be some further interest from visitors to the exhibition who may give us more information to help in our research. 

Albert Heather, centre at The Art of Sidney Sime © The Lightbox

What are your favourite pieces in the exhibition and why?

I love the series of Nursery Rhymes published in Pall Mall Magazine as they are full of detail, yet humorous in places. Old King Cole in particular. I also have a soft spot for Albert Heather, sexton and a curator at Worplesdon Memorial Hall, who though utterly miserable looking, happened to live in the former cottage on the site where our house is now built! There is also a theatrical caricature with Sydney Fairbrother (stage name) as  'Oriana'  which features Marmadook, a cat! Apparently on the night of the Performance Sime attended, the cat escaped and ran across the stage which he has incorporated into the picture. Simple but funny and rather touching.

Oriana (top left) at The Art of Sidney Sime © The Lightbox

The Art of Sidney Sime © The Lightbox

What can visitors to the exhibition expect to see?

A taster menu of Sime's huge variety of talent - illustrations, portraiture, caricatures and large oils as well as some letters, fabulous anatomy book recently restored from his time as a student at Liverpool School of Art. Throughout the exhibition, Sime's early life as a pitboy in appalling conditions down the coalmines near Manchester is a powerful influence. He teases us to stand back, ponder and decide for ourselves what is the meaning of many of his untitled pictures. The booklet that accompanies the exhibition is well worth buying (entry to the Exhibition is free!) as it gives a good introduction to Sime's fascinating life.

The Art of Sidney Sime: Artist & Philosopher is on display at The Lightbox until 28 May 2017.
Free entry, donations welcome. For more information on Sime's life and work visit www.sidneysimegallery.org.uk.