When I was preparing the article about American Impressionist, Richard Earl Thompson (Last week’s blog post), I was surprised to come across the name of another American Impressionist, George Gardner Symons (1861-1930). At the beginning of his career, Thompson had written to Symons seeking his advice on the best school for art training. (Click images to enlarge)
I’ve been aware of Gardner Symons’ work for many years and have had in the back of my mind for some time to do an article about him. When his name unexpectedly surfaced during the research for the Thompson article, I thought now would be the perfect time. As I got into this, I quickly realized how little information there is about him and how difficult it is to access his paintings…and then most of them turned out to be snow scenes. The image below which I found on the internet labeled as “Fishing Village, St. Ives” turns out to actually be Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts. I once again am reminded how small this world is when artist Fred Doloresco notified me that he actually owns the painting and alerted me to the title error. I should have had enough sense to realize that St. Ives would not have been nearly that populated in the early 1900s.
Actually however, the deeper motivation for giving attention to Symons is his last name, for it’s possible we are related, as my mom’s maiden name was Symons. and the name has its roots in Southern England, specifically in Cornwall and Devon counties. St. Ives, in Cornwall county, is the home of my mom’s family, and where I was born in 1945; it’s also the town in which Gardner spent many years painting with his buddy Walter Schofield. Symons had met Schofield, Edward Redfield, and probably Daniel Garber through his association with the Pennsylvania School, so when Schofield moved to England and settled in St. Ives, it was natural for Gardner to visit his friend and settle there for several years as well.
Although it’s not mentioned in any of the material read about Gardner Symons, I would bet, while in England, that he met many of the artists from the Newlyn School…painters of Naturalism…including Stanhope Forbes, Walter Langley, George Clausen, among others. Newlyn and St. Ives are very close to one another on the English coast, so I imagine the presence of these artists surely had an influence on the work of Gardner Symons.
I find it interesting that the Symons name is rooted in Medieval times and is from the name “Simon”, which means “to hearken” or “to listen”. As I learned, Gardner’s original family name was “Simon”, but upon returning to America after spending several years in England/Europe, he changed the name to Symons over concern of anti-semitism. I could find no record of his family’s heritage, or if he or his family were Jewish. “Simon” does have Hebrew origins so that might have contributed to Gardner’s concern. If I remember correctly from my reading, the name “Simon” was also closely associated with Roman Catholicism. In any case, Gardner felt, in America, he might experience something he didn’t want.
Gardner Symons was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1861. Not much is known about his early life other than he studied at the Chicago Art Institute and worked for a time in Chicago as a commercial artist. In school he developed a close friendship with William Wendt, a noted California Impressionist. When Wendt moved to California in 1903, Symons went with him, built a studio in Laguna Beach and became active in western art societies including the California Art Club. He returned to California often but his main studio was in Brooklyn, New York.
From what I can tell, Symons was accustomed to travel; besides his time spent in England, while in Europe he also studied in Paris, Munich and London, but it was in St. Ives that he adopted plein air techniques from his fellow artist associations. Symons became one of America’s most noted plein air painters. His style combined Impressionism and Realism and is cited for its energy, simplicity, and panoramic views. As you can see, he really preferred painting the snow covered landscape. His work reminds me of New England artist, Aldro Hibbard (1886-1972). Although not mentioned in the things I’ve read, I would think it a good assumption that Symons and Hibbard knew each other.
George Gardner Symons died in Hillside, New Jersey in 1930.
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