Unless you’re a devoted fan of horror and fantasy, it’s likely you’ve never heard of Sidney Sime (1867-1941). He was on his way to being forgotten even during his own lifetime, due as much to his own admitted fondness for loafing as anything else. After the 1920s he produced less and less work, and almost no illustrations. Yet during the late 19th-early 20th century he was one of the most popular and best known illustrators of his day. He worked with a variety of techniques, but his style was evocative of a weird mixture of Gustave Doré and Aubrey Beardsley.
Lovecraft admired his work, and even mentions Sime directly in “Pickman’s Model”and “The Call of Cthulhu” as one of those artists who had that same certain talent for evoking the weird and terrible in art.
His most famous work consists of the illustrations he did for Lord Dunsany‘s collections. starting with The Gods of Pegana in 1905. This association lasted for seventeen years, until 1922, which was about the time that Sime began his life of loafing. Dunsany’s stories are obviously where Lovecraft encountered Sime’s work; Sime’s other work appeared mostly in British magazines like The Idler (which he owned at one time), Pick-Me-Up and others, which Lovecraft would not have had access to.
There have been several collections of Sime’s illustrations, mostly those from the Dunsany period, but none are in print today. Most reprints of Dunasny’s work omit the illustrations, but there are a few scattered volume that include them. Used copies of the collections can be quite expensive –I’ve seen one of them listed at over a thousand dollars–but Sidney Sime: Master of the Mysterious can still be found for a more reasonable price. The reproductions aren’t the finest, but we have to take what we can get.
Although I’m a big fan of Simes’s work, Sime had a satirical streak and it shows up in many of his finest illustrations. He is, no question, a master of conveying a certain unearthly grandeur within the confines of a realistic style and there are particular pieces that might even be appropriate for some of Lovecraft’s later stories. But his creatures, while evocative and original, have a sense of impishness and humor that, at least today, would destroy the slow steady tension of Lovecraft’s later work.
Still, he deserves more than to be forgotten. He’s one of the great fantasy artists. As evidence, enjoy this small sampling of his work: