Sidney Sime is another original. Born in 1867, the same year as Rackham and Brangwyn. He showed precocious talent but his early years were spent making a blue collar living as, variously, a baker, a shoemaker, a coal miner and other forms of honest labor. At one point he was apprenticed to a sign maker and took some art classes at the Liverpool School of Art. His success there, though not staggering, convinced him that art was his livelihood and by 1895 he managed to get his illustrations published in the humor magazines of the day, particularly in Pick-Me-Up.
from The Idler – June 1900
Sime was never going to be mistaken for Brangwyn, but his work combined an aura of the fantastic with a cartoonist’s wit and it compares favorably with Rackham’s earliest effort. There was a darkness, either in fact or in theme, to much of Sime’s art, and reaction to it was fairly polarized. He gained a reputation and more assignments followed for more prestigious publications like Pall Mall Magazine and The Idler. (image at right is also from The Idler.)
Remember, this was the heyday of art magazines like The Yellow Book in Britain. Not everyone could be Aubrey Beardsley, but it was considered chic to be outre. The modern printing techniques had opened the publishing doors to magazines aimed at a less-than-generic public. Fools rushed in, misreading the market, and lots of beautiful little magazines lasted two or three issues, victims of the youthful (and sometimes not so youthful) exuberance of their creators.
from The Idler – Feb. 1900
In 1898, Sime’s uncle died and bequeathed the bulk of his estate to the burgeoning artist. Relieved of the need to work, Sime worked all the harder. He used a portion of his inheritance to purchase the The Idler which he intended to co-edit. He changed the focus to be more in step with the times (as he saw them), but was able to keep it afloat for little more than a year.
During this time he did the illustrations for a fantasy by Laurence Housman for Pall Mall. He was, for probably the first time, coupled with an author who challenged his abilities and imagination as an artist. Six years later, in 1905, he was approached by a young British aristocrat who had written his own book of fantasies and felt that Sime was the only living artist capable of illustrating it. It’s not known if Sime agreed with the assessment, but he took the assignment and created eight amazing pieces of art for 26-year-old Lord Dunsany’s The Gods of Pegana. The image at right is titled “IT“.
This was the start of a 15-year collaboration which led to Dunsany actually writing stories around Sime’s illustrations. Other than two frontispieces for a pair of Arthur Machen books, Dunsany’s were the only books he illustrated.
Some of the other titles are: Time and the Gods, The Sword of Welleran, A Dreamer’s Tales, The Book of Wonder, The Last Book of Wonder, The Chronicles of Rodriquez, and The King of Elfland’s Daughter. The image at left is from Time and the Gods. This title and The Chronicles of Rodriquez were issued in uniform limited editions with vellum spines and leather title labels in 1922. Each was signed by Dunsany and Sime – the copy we have of Time and the Gods is signed by him on every one of the ten plates. It’s a good thing the edition was only 250!
Below is the frontispiece to The King of Elfland’s Daughter, from the 1924 limited edition.
Sime designed the costumes for several theatre productions, including a 1909 production of The Blue Bird by Maeterlinck, and was involved in the production of a trio of original operas by Howard de Walden based on The Mabinogian – a book of Welsh legends. Sime also did the art for the published score.
With the exception of a few exhibitions (1923 and 1927), Sime faded from the art scene after the Dunsany books. A collection of some of the drawings he did for a 1905 series in the Sketch called ‘The Sime Zoology: Beasts that might have been‘ was enhanced and published in 1923 as Bogey Beasts.
Max Beerbohm’s famous caricature of Sime from The Idler – July 1900.
Sime died in 1941.
Note: of the two biographies listed in the References section:
Master of Fantasy has more illustrations
Master of the Mysterious has more information and better reproduction
With the exception of the photo (from Master of Fantasy), all images are from primary sources.
To learn more about Sidney Sime, see:
|Sidney H. Sime Master of Fantasy||Paul W. Skeeters, Ward/Ritchie 1978|
|Sidney Sime Master of the Mysterious||Simon Heneage and Henry Ford, Thames & Hudson 1980|
|The Vadeboncoeur Collection of Knowledge||Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 1999|
|The Vadeboncoeur Collection of ImageS B&W 2||Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 1999 JVJ Publishing|
Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page written, designed & © 1999 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. Updated 2011.
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