Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Charles Sims (1873-1928)   BIOGRAPHY

Study for Ceiling painting in the Great Hall of the Institute of Civil Engineers, c. 1919
Framed (ref: 5480)

Oil on canvas
45.5 x 109.5 cm (17 15/16 x 43 1/8 in.)


In 1920 Sims was commissioned to decorate the ceiling of the Institute of Civil Engineers in Great George Street, Westminster. On December 2,
1919 the Institute’s Minutes recorded the Council’s decision ‘that advantage be taken of the opportunity afforded of the cleaning and reinstatement of the Great Hall, and the erection of scaffolding therefore, to complete the architect’s original scheme for the decoration for the decoration of the mouldings of the ceiling …
The Council accept the offer of Sir John Griffith the President, to complete the ceiling of the Great Hall by providing for the decoration of the central panel a painting emblematic of the Civil Engineers’ war-time efforts.’ The ceiling decoration was part of a commemorative scheme, including a plaque designed by Derwent Wood to record the names of those members killed in the Great War.
Sims’s design is enormously inventive. A figure of Victory swoops down, surrounded by a billowing Union Jack and holding the victor’s laurels, although it also serves as a wreath for the dead. At the edges people crane their necks to peer upwards, as people looking up at the ceiling would do, and a biplane, emblem of modernity crosses the composition. Sims was deeply engaged in the process commemorating the War. His son was killed in the Navy in 1914, and he painted a lamentation that was exhibited at the Royal Academy to great note. In 1918 he travelled to France as an Official War Artist and was there when the guns fell silent for the Armistice. Sims was paid £1,000 for his Civil Engineers ceiling commission. The fully completed canvas exhibited here was perhaps used to show the Council what form the final decoration would take.

Charles Sims (1873-1928)

Sims painted portraits, landscapes, and decorative paintings. He was one of that group of artists who continued to treat symbolic and romantic themes after the First World War.

He received his art education in London in the South Kensington and Royal Academy Schools, and in Paris in the ateliers of Julian and Baschet. His continental training probably accounts for his fluent handling of paint, and his confident treatment of space and atmosphere. These qualities rapidly gained him critical and academic success. A picture was bought for the Paris gallery of modern art, the Luxemburg, in 1897 and for the public gallery in Sydney, Australia in 1902. He held a highly successful one man show at the Leicester Gallery in 1906, and 'The Fountain' was bought for the Chantrey Bequest in 1908. Academic honours followed. He was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1908, Associate of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1911, Member of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1914 and Royal Academician in 1915. He became keeper of the Royal Academy Schools in 1920.

The First World War proved to be a traumatic experience for Sims, from which he never recovered. His eldest son was killed and he was unbalanced by what he witnessed in France where he was sent as a war artist in 1918. His subsequent paintings often show signs of the mental disturbance which led him to resign his post at the Royal Academy Schools in 1926. In 1928, Sims committed suicide. A study of his life by one of his sons appeared in 1934, and a selection of his work appeared in the Last Romantics exhibition (Barbican Art Gallery, London 1989).


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