George Sheringham was born in London on 13th November 1884. (1) His father was an Anglican clergyman and vicar of Tewksbury Abbey. George was educated at Kings School, Gloucester and studied art at The Slade, London and The Sorbonne in Paris. He was interested in art at from early age and the decorative arts became a lifelong passion. He first exhibited at the Paris Salon and his work was subsequently exhibited in London, Ghent, Brussels, Melbourne and New York. (2) He specialised in flower paintings but he is probably best remembered as a theatre set designer, especially for designs for The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.
George married Sybil Mengens in 1912. Sybil was born in Calcutta (Kolkata) and was living in Hampshire with her parents at the time of her marriage. (3) When George died in 1937 she gifted the watercolour Faded Roses painted by Charles Rennie MacKintosh to Glasgow.
Faded Roses was painted in 1905 and, as the title suggests, represents roses in a state of decay and depicted in a rather sombre colour scheme. It was painted at a time when MacKintosh had little work and may reflect his mood at that period. Mackintosh is well known for his architecture and interior design but when he moved to Walberswick, Surrey in 1914 he produced a series of watercolours depicting stylised flowers. In 1915 he moved to Chelsea, a fashionable, artistic district of London and socialised with many artists and designers, including George Sheringham and his wife Sybil, who was now a successful artist in her own right. (4) It was in 1923 that MacKintosh gifted Faded Roses to Sybil prior to leaving for France
There is a pencil sketch of George Sheringhame, drawn by Powys Evans in 1921, in The National Portrait Gallery in London,. Evans was a caricaturist who made numerous sketches of Sheringham.
In 1925 George was awarded the Paris Grand Prix, both for architectural decoration and for theatre design.(5) He also illustrated books including The Happy Hypocrite by Max Beerbolm.
As a decorator he designed the music room at 40 Devonshire House, London and the ballroom at Claridges Hotel. He also completed a striking series of large paintings for the 8th Lord Howard de Walden (Baron Seaford), entitled The Cauldron of Anwyn, to illustrate his Celtic poem, probably for Seaford House in Belgravia. The house was being remodelled and included a fine onyx staircase from South American marble and it is said that to ensure the finest quality possible he purchased the quarry.(6)
Sheringham became an authority on Chinese art and much of his work shows this influence. He designed fans, which illustrate his thoughts on the fundamental differences between Western and Far Eastern art. In an article in The Studio magazine of January 1936 he describes how he thinks Western art is limiting in its scientific approach ‘science has put a fence around art ‘(the frame), whereas Eastern art, especially from China, expresses ideas in limitless detail (scroll paintings only finish when the meaning is complete). He explains…’Meaning being the very essence, the beginning, end and centre of all the greater Eastern Works of Art’. He criticises James McNeill Whistler’s paintings which combined eastern and western influences…’Whistler may be said to have missed the main underlying tradition of Eastern Art, for he snatches at Japanese fundamental insistence on perfection of arrangement; and discarded meaning’.(7)
Sheringham was particularly interested in flower painting influenced by a Chinese style. In The Studio he wrote an article entitled The Flower Sculptures of China which refers to work in jade (usually in the most sought after white colour) and which both George and Sybil collected. An image in the magazine of a rose-coloured peony is described as ‘capturing the essence of the flower, not just copying it’ and was part of Sybil’s collection. The illustrated watercolour by George is included in The Studio article is entitled simply Flower Painting and was commissioned, among other artists, to hang in the newly launched Queen Mary.(8)
Sheringham also designed woodblock prints and received lessons from Ernest A Taylor, one of the Glasgow Boys painters who was living in Hampstead at the time and who was closely connected to Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style. . Although Sheringham may never have visited Glasgow he was much influenced by these artists with a Glasgow connection.
Another influence in Sheringham’s life was music which inspired much of his life, and his work for D’oyly Carte Opera Company would have combined his love of art and music together. Mention has already been made of Whistler who was also influenced by music and many of his paintings were entitled ‘arrangements’ or ‘harmonies’.
Sheringham’s fluid rhythmic style of painting was influenced by the rhythm of life, in the way plants grew and seasons changed, and in later life this aspect became more important. Indeed his last completed painting was titled ‘Jungle Rythm’. James Duncan Fergusson, one of the ‘Scottish Colourists’, had a similar interest and they knew each other when Fergusson was living in London. Fergusson produced a magazine called ‘Rythm’ while he was in Paris.
In 1936 The Royal Society of Arts established the Royal Designers for Industry Award and Sheringham was one of the first artists to receive the accolade in 1937.
George Sheringham died at his Hampstead home on 11th November 1937 and in the following year Sybil presented Faded Rose to Glasgow. Sybil passed away on 8th August 1942 at Golders Green London.
(1) www.ancestry.co.uk, births
(2) Obituaries, The Times, 12th November 1937
(3) The Modernist Journals Project (Brown University and The University of Tulsa)
(4) Glasgow Museums, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Kaplan Wendy 1996, p305
(5) Obituaries, The Times, 12th November 1937
(7) The Studio, January 1936, p5
(8) The Studio, January 1936, p8