George Simonds (1843-1929)

Berkshire Regiment Afghan Memorial.

Creator of one remarkable sculpture, the Afghan Memorial Lion in Reading, and various other works, of which the most important is in America. He was born in Berkshire into a brewing family, but trained abroad, from 1858, aged 15, in the Royal Academy of Arts in Dresden, and then under Prof. Johannes Schilling for 4 years, then under Louis Jehotte in Brussels, and thence to Rome, where he stayed for 12 years. There, he produced The Falconer, and other works for England and America. He returned to England in 1877, settling in London. In his later years from about 1905, he gradually abandoned sculpture as he became engaged in the brewing interests of his family, becoming chairman of the company in 1910.

We start with the lion – a huge thing, in cast iron, purportedly the largest single cast iron statue made in Victorian times, which I cannot confirm. It is perfectly sited on an elevated plinth in a small park, with the remains of buildings associated with Reading Abbey as a backdrop. The lion is snarling, his long tail whipping out and downward, caught in a pose striding majestically forward. The head, framed by the mane, is naturalistic, the body with stylised, emphasised muscles. It dates from 1886, and is the memorial to the men of the Berkshire Regiment (66th) who fell at Maiwand in the Afghan war of 1880. Excellent. (Lots more statues of lions on this page.)

Simonds’ other work is in very different vein. We have a few monuments – the Queen Victoria figure also in Reading, a bronze portrait statue of Frederick Tollemache in Grantham, a stirring figure in a heavy cloak, a portrait bust of the engineer Bazalgette on the Victoria Embankment he created constraining the Thames in London, and some less familiar figures elsewhere.

He also made a series of ideal statues, of which the Goddess Gerd: the Northern Aurora, a stretching nude, somewhat in the vein of Onslow Ford, with a sunburst (the aurora) of hair, is oft reproduced but the others not so accessible – they included various Greek deities and demigods. A well known statue of Simonds in America is The Falconer, in Central Park, New York, with the man and bird on his wrist caught in active pose. Between his various works of which I am aware – the active, the enormous, the sensual and the dignified – it is hard to gain a sense of his overall style.

The Goddess Gerd, the Northern Aurora.

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