Simmons, John (c.1823-1876)

John Simmons was born in Clifton, near Bristol, and baptised in Bristol on 13 April 1823, the son of the bookbinder, John Simmons, and his wife, Elizabeth. Nothing is known of his childhood or education, though he seems to have lived at home into adulthood, at 7 Bush Street, St James, Clifton, with his father and two sisters, Mary and Eliza, who were both dressmakers and milliners. His father ran his bookbinding business with John Oliver at 3 Little John Street, Bristol, until 1844.

In 1849, Simmons was elected to the membership of the Bristol Academy of the Fine Arts, and established himself at its exhibitions as a painter of portrait watercolours and especially miniatures. Later, he would teach as well as show there.

In 1857, he married Emily Bennett, who may be identified as a dressmaker living at Byron Cottage, Broadway, Horfield, north of Bristol. They settled at 9 Oakfield Place, Clifton, along with Simmons’ father and sisters. Emily would give birth to four children: Edward, Frank, Emily and Edith.

In the mid 1860s, Simmons turned to fairy paintings. These invariably portray Titania, Queen of the Fairies, as an unattainable, pale fleshed nude set within a bower of exotic flowers. The erotic charge of such images is self-evident. However, the technical means by which Simmons created their atmosphere should not be under-estimated. His delicate application of pure watercolour gives an otherworldly quality even to a more naturalistic subject, such as the present work, Italian Beauty.

Simmons died in Bristol in November 1876, and was buried at Arnos Vale Cemetery on the seventeenth of that month. Following his death, a subscription was raised in order to provide for his widow and children.

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