Auctioneer Chorley’s has announced the sale of a spectacular work by Royal Academician and one of the main proponents of the Arts & Crafts movement, William Simmonds (1876-1968). The Black Mare standing at 48cm x 76 x 41cm depicts a stylised horse turning to nip a fly on its hoof. It was created in Simmonds’ famed Gloucestershire studio and dates from 1925 and will be offered alongside a selection of other items from his studio, such as Simmonds’ tool chest, a set of wallpaper designs and an oil sketch in Chorley’s Modern Art & Design sale on Tuesday, 21st November 2023.
William Simmonds trained as an architect for four years before undertaking fine art training at the Royal College of Art in 1893 and then the Royal Academy schools for five years. He gained a following in the 1920’s for his stunning wood and ivory carvings of both wild and domestic animals, where he impressed with his unique ability to capture the true nature of his subject. Following World War I he was called on to design tanks and aeroplanes with aviation engineer Sir Geoffrey de Havilland. Simmonds and his wife Eve Peart who he married in 1912, (who was also an artist and studied a The Slade, settled in the Cotswold village of Far Oakridge, where he established a workshop. Here he cultivated friendships with other prominent creatives, such as designers Sidney Barnsley and Fred Gardiner, textile printers Barron and Larcher and ceramicists and painters Alfred and Louise Powell, amongst others.
The Black Mare demonstrates Simmonds’ knowledge and admiration for Japanese art, in his use of black lacquer as a finish and his passion for wood carving, which is evident in the use of mahogany as a material. The principles of simplicity and natural beauty align with the philosophy of the Arts & Crafts movement that Simmonds was so integral to. He saw beauty in the animals and nature around him and was able to capture them as static creatures, frozen for a moment in their natural habitat, a skill that won him world-wide acclaim as one of the greatest sculptors of the movement.
Simmonds began working on The Black Mare in 1925 without a particular client in mind and a photograph exists of him, with the unfinished sculpture in his studio. It was sold the following year while on exhibition at the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society, where it was purchased for £500 by the private collector George Eumorfopoulos, who had a passion for the Orient and later founded the Oriental Ceramic Society. The Black Mare went proudly on display in his Chelsea Embankment home, alongside important Renaissance and Medieval Art and 18th century porcelain.
It would later go on loan for an exhibition at Cheltenham Art Gallery, alongside the celebrated Anglo-American sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) and again at the same gallery in 1968. During this time it had passed to its new owner, Elizabeth, the Countess Northesk (1906-1991) and correspondence between Simmonds and the Countess discussing The Black Mare will be offered alongside the work at auction. In a letter of 1955 from Simmonds to Northesk he states: “I have been asked to lend some important pieces of my work for the Cheltenham Contemporary Art festival and as I consider the Black Mare to be perhaps my best work …”, in a further letter after the show was completed, he wrote of the Mare “…for part of the time it was facing Epstein’s Genesis. Later Genesis was removed to another room leaving the mare triumphant”. It then passed to a private collector, who is the current owner.
Thomas Jenner-Fust, Director at Chorley’s says: “As pieces by the great Arts & Crafts sculptor William Simmonds rarely come to auction, we are delighted to have the opportunity to offer possibly the most important work in his oeuvre. In a letter to The Black Mare’s previous owner, the Countess Northesk, Simmonds cites it as being “perhaps my finest work.”
Such was his contribution to both the Arts & Crafts movement, but also to his local community and the wider arts industry, it is a great honour to present such a historic embodiment of what Simmonds was trying to achieve and did so magnificently. The Black Mare is the most imposing, monumental and striking of Simmonds works.” It carries an estimate of £60,000-£80,000.