He was an illustrator for The Graphic and The Strand Magazine as well as receiving commissions to create mosaics for Westminster Cathedral and stained-glass windows for the firm Lavers, Barraud and Westlake.
As an artist he exhibited works at numerous galleries including the Royal Academy, Manchester City Art Gallery and the Royal Society of British Artists.
He was friends with artists such as James Whistler (1834-1903) and John Singer Sargent (1856-1935) and, like the latter, he was an early supporter of the New English Art Club. Indeed, he would often borrow Sargent’s studio in Fulham Road.
While Symons now has considerably less commercial standing than such contemporaries, his supporters would say his works represent excellent value on the current market, although not too many examples have come up for sale recently.
Doing something to address this, a group of 17 pictures was consigned directly from the artist’s family to Bellmans’ (25% buyer’s premium) auction of Old Master, British and European Paintings in West Sussex on March 28.
While one lot was withdrawn, all the others sold for a £11,210 hammer total with the prices ranging from £5000 down to just £180 for a small pencil and wash sketch. Bellmans reported a mix of trade and private buying.
On a good note
The top-seller was Blow Bugle, Answer Echo, a 3ft 4in x 4ft 2in (1.02 x 1.27m) signed oil on canvas which had been one of the pictures shown at the posthumous exhibition of Symons’ paintings and watercolours at the Goupil Gallery held the year after he died.
It had also appeared in an exhibition at Victoria Art Gallery in Bath in 1994 titled Life, Light and Colour: the rediscovery of William Christian Symons.
The work was painted in the back garden of The Pilgrim’s Rest, a medieval inn opposite the gatehouse of Battle Abbey which appears to the background.
While it appeared to show a family scene, the composition and style was somewhat removed from his more overtly figurative subjects, such as the picture that holds the artist’s current auction record: The Anchor’s weighed, remember me that fetched £20,000 at Sotheby’s in 2006.
Here the estimate was set at £5000-7000, and it sold at the lower end of predictions.
Making a lesser sum but bringing more bidding against a £600-800 pitch was a painting of the artist’s own family titled The Recital.
Depicting his wife Cecilia, known as Sissy – who was a Royal Academy-trained musician – playing the violin, together with the couple’s sons, the 3ft x 2ft 4in (92 x 71cm) oil on canvas was offered unframed and had a few condition issues such as some minor paint loss and shrinkage.
Even still, selling at £800, it was one of the works that followers would probably point to as representing good value.