Dad: “Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright (later Ruth Dominy) on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.
(This was on the slopes of Platberg, the mountain that overshadows Harrismith Free State).
“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. (Mom and Dad owned a bottle store, liquor store, in the town). I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”
So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s 98yr-old memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad.
Victor Simmonds’ work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from $126 to $256, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 2012 the record price for this artist at auction is $256 for South African landscape with two women carrying wood, sold at Bonhams Oxford in 2012.
I just knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking, and at Love Camping I found:
A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.
This post was seen by old Westvillians Tony and Elesa Willies in Canada, who wrote in the comments. Elesa sent a pic of her and her folks taken 43 years ago in the same ‘shrubs beside a cascading stream’ spot above Mahai campsite in RNNP!
And Tony sent a Victor Simmonds painting called ‘Harrismith’ (wish I knew where this was done – maybe near Sunnymede on the banks of the Wilge river, looking away from the river towards Platberg?):
I asked Dad if he could remember more. Just these (mainly sad) memories: – He was a lovely little man – small, frail even; I don’t think he ate much – he drank too much; – Ruth Wright probly gave him some grub, she was a lovely woman (he stayed in a cottage on their plot);
– His pub was the Grand National in Warden street – quite a walk from the plot next door to us. He never had a car, nor even a bicycle; – I wish I had asked him to give you kids drawing or sketching lessons – I could have paid him a bit. He never had any money;
– I fear he probably died penniless and got a paupers burial; (thankfully this was probably overly pessimistic as it turned out, as Victor was still painting some twenty years later, as shown by Helen who commissioned a painting of the Amphitheatre from him in 1980, just before she emigrated to Australia – see her comment).
Two more from the “early student paintings” he gave Dad. Both are marked ‘Harrismith ca.1946’ – but by who? Not by Victor himself.