This portrait by Sir Oswald Birley RA was painted in 1926 at Tisbury Hall, on Salisbury Plain. It shows George indulging his passion for falconry with his favourite Peregrine Falcon and hung in the H&G Simonds Ltd boardroom on Bridge Street in Reading which he presided over as Chairman from 1910-1929. His portrait was transferred to the new corporate Head office of Scottish Courage at Staines in about 1970. Following closure of that office in 2009, it was donated to Reading Museum.
Born George Simonds at Bridge Street in Reading, the 4th child of George Simonds (1794-1852) & Mary Anne Boulger (1814-1870) of Bradfield, Berkshire.
On the death of his elder brother Blackall Simonds in 1905 who was childless and at his brother’s request, he took on the Blackall name, becoming George Blackall Simonds. At this time he had to abandon his arts and in 1910 took on the Chairmanship of the family brewery. George was one of the most gifted artists and sculptors of his era. His unique talent was for working across a wide range of materials, including marble, copper, silver, bronze, brass, plaster, terracotta, wood and iron.
He was student no 19 on the register at Bradfield College in Berkshire in 1852. At the age of just 15 he travelled to Dresden to study under Professor Johannes Schilling, moving on to study under Louis Jehotte at The Academy of Brussels, where he reputedly worked on the famous monumental statue of Charlemagne, now in Liège. In 1864 at the age of 21 he set up a studio in Rome. He returned to London in 1875 working from 152 Buckingham Palace Road.
In 1866 at just 23 years old, Simonds showed his first sculptures in the Royal Academy, over time showing some 44 pieces. His sculptures received many favourable reviews and have lost none of their power and grace today.
He returned to London in 1875 setting up a studio first at 152 Buckingham Palace Road and in 1888 at Priory Studios in St John’s Wood.
In 1877 he married Emily Gertrude Prescott (1859-1940) who he had met in Rome. Sadly, their only son George Prescott Simonds (1881-1914) having served in South Africa was called up as a Reserve Officer to the South Wales Borderers. He only arrived at the front on the 19th of September and was killed in action on 26th at the battle of the Aisne near Vendresse in France, fighting hand to hand as the Germans attacked their positions in a disused quarry. He is remembered at The Memorial to the Missing at La Ferte sous Jouarre and in the Illustrated London News of November 14th 1914.
He is also commemorated in the village church of St Andrew, Bradfield, in a stained glass window. The window depicts St George, with a head bearing a remarkable similarity to another George – bearing the inscription: To the Glory of God and in loving memory of George Prescott Blackall Simonds Lieutenant 1st S Wales Borderers 24th Regt. Killed while leading the attack in a quarry at Vendresse in France 26th Sept 1914.
This unusual portrait was painted posthumously by WC Cox.
In 1922, George Blackall came out of retirement as a sculptor to create the war memorial that stands at Bradfield Cross and includes his son on the Roll of Honour.
BBC Radio Berkshire produced a film about The Maiwand Lion and this poignant memorial: CLICK HERE
George was a leading proponent of the renaissance ‘Lost Wax Process’ used in casting large Bronze works, publishing variously on the subject in the UK and the USA. Here are two examples:
Casting in Bronze was published by ‘The Illustrated Magazine’ in 1885
The art of bronze casting in Europe, published in ‘The American Architect and Building News’ (1876-1908) on July 18th 1896;
George was associated with William Morris (1834-1896) and the critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) much involved in the new ‘Arts & Crafts movement’. He served as the inaugural Master of the Art Workers Guild in 1884, where this portrait of 1909 and celebrating 25 years still hangs:
The Guild was formed by a group of young architects who, inspired by the ideals of Pugin, Ruskin and Morris, wished to create a forum where architects could meet artists and craftsmen; it was a response to a widely felt crisis in the Arts.
George was also a keen falconer.
Here is some of his correspondence:
1869 to a Mr Newburn on the subject
1872 from W.H.Salvin
1923 another from a famous falconer EB Mitchell, compliments of Petr Devers.
In November 1926, George proposed the setting up of a new organisation and was chosen as the first President of The British Falconers’ Club. Following his acceptance speech all rose and a toast was given: “Hood, Lure and Leash”. This is their tribute to him that was published in 2006 and is available courtesy of the club, HERE: