Museum Highlight

Mark Symons

One of Mark Symons’ works The Last Supper was on display in the Sir John Madejski Art Gallery, Reading Museum as part of the Patrons and Donors: Reading’s Art And How it Got Here… February 2018 – Feb 2019. However our Highlight is an example of his more domestic scenes. [Highlighted: Apr 2018]

Molly in the Pantry
by Mark Symons (1887–1935)

Oil on Canvas
68cm x 75cm
Date: about 1932

RGA member: 1930–1935

Reading Museum Accession Number
REDMG : 1933.14.1

Joining in the Guild’s very first year, one of the then more widely known artists was Mark Symons, who at the time was seen as a controversial artist whose modern treatment of religious subjects was attracting the attention of the RA and elsewhere. His works were often ambitious in size.

As well as religious subject matter, Mark Symons included his adopted daughters in a series of paintings of more domestic settings. Molly in the Pantry was exhibited at the Reading Guild of Artists Third Exhibition, 1932, Reading Art Gallery. Such a domestic scene is described to us by the recollections of a later RGA member Joan Wilder, who had lessons with Mark Symons when she was a child. ‘He used to bring plants, dock leaves, etc., for me to draw and never minded when I added fairies and other imaginary creatures. I was delighted to discover that he seemed to believe in fairies too, and could draw them much better than I could!’

At one of these lessons, Joan brought along her autograph book and asked if he could sign it. Continuing with the lesson as usual, Mark handed back the little book at the end without a word, and Joan was disappointed as she thought he hadn’t signed it. Later however, she found not only had he signed it but had also sketched the young artist at work, adding the caption “Why won’t this picture come right?”, eluding perhaps to the deep concentration of his pupil, although the caption did annoy Joan at the time, as she thought it was going quite well.

‘Later on, I was invited to tea with him and his family – he was living at that time, I think, in Caversham. There was a baby in a high chair. I suppose it must have been Molly. Mark cut the loaf at the tea table. In those more formal days, I had never seen this done before…’. As well as the preparatory study for Molly in the Pantry, and Baby Anns Breakfast (another daughter in the very same high-chair?) the Reading Museum have in their collection a whole series of Mark Symons sketches.

At the Guild’s Council meeting on 9th February 1935, they regretfully received Mark Symons decision to resign owing to ill health. He died two days later at the early age of 48. Joan Wilder said ‘I remember seeing the Memorial Exhibition of 1936 and realising all over again what an exquisite draughtsman Mark was.’

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