A Visit to the Sime Gallery, Worplesdon
June 12, 2018 § Leave a comment
I’ve been a fan of Sidney Sime’s art for a long time, since having first seen his fantastical illustrations for Lord Dunsany’s ‘The Gods of Pegāna‘, but it wasn’t until I started research for my essay on three of Sime’s paintings, an article which was eventually published in Dead Reckonings 22, that I realised how hard it was to find any information on him beyond the scant biographical details on his Wikipedia page and the single easily-acquirable book about his life, Simon Heneage and Henry Ford’s ‘Sidney Sime, Master of the Mysterious‘.
What I did find, however, is that a small band of devotees keep Sime’s memory alive at the Sidney Sime Gallery in Worplesdon, Surrey. Worplesdon has a great connection to Sime – he lived there after buying the still-extant Crown Cottage in 1904 and, after his death in 1941, his remains were interred in the graveyard of Worplesdon’s St Mary’s church – so it is a more than fitting place for his memory to linger.
Still, Surrey is a long way from my own home in Edinburgh…
Thankfully, however, a slight detour on the return journey home from a trip to Europe would leave me in the area and, with a huge debt to the kindness of trustees Mary Broughton and Jan Messinger, I was given the opportunity to visit the gallery itself.
I knew the gallery would be small, with large parts of Sime’s work either having disappeared into Time or held in the collection at Dunsany Castle, but I had no real idea what it contained so I followed the ornate metal sign to the rear entrance of Worplesdon Memorial Hall to see what would be seen.
I was met by Jan with who immediately made me feel welcome, despite my rather shabby appearance from over a fortnight of camping around Europe. We climbed a right-angled set of stairs that leads to the first floor room, the gallery proper, and I have to admit I was slightly overcome. Seemingly every single spare inch of wall space was covered with Sime’s work in all its myriad form and technique; the fantastical creatures he is perhaps largely known for crouched beside delicate landscapes, the refined theatre designs glanced nervously at roaring caricatures sketched of regulars in Worplesdon’s New Inn.
And there, as you turn from ascending the stairs, is ‘Woods and Dark Animal‘ (sometimes known as ‘A Wild Creature Stalking The Woods‘). One of my very favourite of Sime’s large oils, this painting depicts a malevolent, baboon-like creature prowling the curiously geometric woods that lurk beneath the walls of a medieval town. I’ve seen this image countless times in reproduction, in print and on the web, but nothing prepared me for the sheer iridescence of the original, the rich contrast of deep shadow and pinpricks of detail. I’m sure I let out a little gasp when I saw it and, if this had been the only thing in the room, my visit would have been worthwhile.
Thankfully, it is far from the only thing in the room. Jan and I spent a wonderful hour flitting from picture to picture and chatting about our thoughts on their inspiration and meaning, how they linked into Sime’s work as a whole, relationships to other artists (Sime’s landscapes become increasingly Turner-esque at points) and why they seem to have been so ignored by history.
The great revelation for me, and something I’m not sure I would have seen on a group visit or without Jan’s help, was the pages and pages of anatomical studies that Sime sketched out in various jotters. Full figures and single bones, joints and muscle groups all repeated again and again in a quick but assured hand.
Just one of these notebooks could have kept me occupied for a day but, sadly, my time at Worplesdon was short and I had to head off having only, I’m sure, seen the merest tip of the collection in that tiny room. Hopefully, the trustees’ goal of a larger gallery space will come to fruition and that will lead to larger awareness of Sime’s immense, diverse body of work.
“There’s something those fellows catch–beyond life–that they’re able to make us catch for a second. Doré had it. Sime has it.“
Lovecraft wrote these words in his short tale, ‘Pickman’s Model‘. Sime certainly does let us catch something beyond life; a brief glimpse of an intense and all-consuming talent.