Mystery man; CCHHRRIISSTTOOPPHHEERR PPRROOUUDDLLOOVVEE OONN ''FFOORRGGOOTTTTEENN AARRTTIISSTT'' SSIIDDNNEEYY SSIIMMEE AANNDD HHIISS PPEENNCCHHAANNTT FFOORR TTHHEE RRIIDDIICCUULLOOUUSS.
The first major Sime retrospective exhibition opens later this month in Surrey, called Master of the Mysterious. He would have liked that, declaring he had "an inherent bent towards mystery". But humour and a sense of the ridiculous were also ever present.
He was the second of six children of Scottish parents and was sent to work in the pits where conditions were bleak. He spent five years pushing scoops filled with coal along rails through tunnels about 28 inches high.
The miners had their own folklore then and Coblynau, Cutty Soams, Dunters and Knockers, "familiars" (as the goblins and elves who lived in the mines were called) were bringers of good fortune and defenders against dangers.
As a boy Sidney used to scratch drawings of the creatures on the pit walls and make little sketches when possible. Other jobs included working for a linen-draper, a baker and a shoemaker.
Later, he took up sign-writing, selfemployed, raising enough money to move to Liverpool and enter the school of art, then part of a national network of art schools.
By his early 20s, Sime gained several prizes and medals. In 1889 his first picture, a portrait of Henry Peet, was exhibited in the Walker Art Gallery Autumn Exhibition, the northern equivalent of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
Sime decided the best way to earn a profitable living was by doing illustrations for magazines and books. He contributed to the Illustrated London News, Pall Mall Magazine, The Graphic, Tatler, Strand, Pick-Me-Up and The Idler, edited by Jerome K Jerome.
In 1897, Sime''s bizarre drawings From an Ultimate Dim Thule began to appear and in the same year, he became editor of Eureka magazine. In 1899 he purchased and edited The Idler magazine for a short time.
In 1898, Sime had married Mary Susan Pickett, a miniaturist painter, and inherited money and property from a solicitor uncle from Edinburgh. He and his wife settled in Perthshire and he painted Scottish landscapes. But he felt isolated and decided in 1904 sold his Scottish home.
He bought Crown Cottage, a former coaching inn at Worplesdon, near Guildford in Surrey. It was more accessible to London (where he had a studio) and an converted stable became a studio for himself and his wife.
Dressed in the same old blue suit, he became a regular visitor to the local inn, sitting in the same place, opposite a large mirror, sketching caricatures of local working men and tradesmen, while drinking whisky.
Membership of London''s Langham Sketching Club and the Yorick Club provided him with congenial artistic companionship. There were opportunities for drawing caricatures of fellow members, including Max Beerbohm, and for interacting with musical friends Duncan Tovey and Joseph Holbrooke. This provided stimulus for the later publication of Bogey Beasts, a book of pictures and verses by Sime with music by Holbrooke.
Sime''s other interests included using a telescope to gaze at stars, a microscope for insect life and a chemistry set with which he almost blew the roof off his studio.
He still cherished the ambition of becoming a "painter", and gained membership of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1896. When World War I intervened, Sime was called up into the Army Service Corps but invalided out with a duodenal ulcer.
In 1924, prompted by the hard necessity of needing to sell pictures to make a living, Sime staged an exhibition at St George''s Gallery in London, followed by another in 1927.
Beset by self-doubt and a contempt of fame, Sime became something of a recluse. He died in relative obscurity having largely disappeared from public view. His wife Mary bequeathed his pictures in her possession to the Trustees of Worplesdon Memorial Hall for a gallery to display of her husband's work, which she endowed with the proceeds of the sale of Crown Cottage.
. Sidney Sime: Master of the Mysterious, Guildford House Gallery, Surrey, Sept 22 -Oct 9. Details from joint sponsor Chris Ewbank, Ewbank Clarke Gammon Wellers, on 01483 223101. Sidney Sime Gallery at Worplesdon open by appointment through Bernard Callanan on 01483 232117. Details at worplesdonmemorialhall.org.uk Sime's eerie Scottish landscape with a figure on a track with two terriers (above) and the menacing figure of a baying wolf in a forest snowstorm (below)
Sidney Sime at work in his studio