1881 - 1916
Cirque Rancy

Watercolour on paper, signed and dated ‘1913’ lower right
Image size: 10 x 14 1/2 inches (27 x 37 cm)


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At this time, Cirque Napoleon Rancy was one of the most prestigious and respected of French travelling shows. According to the corporate magazine Der Artist, Napoleon Rancy launched his two-masted marquee, 40 diameter, in 1910. In 1913 The Rixfords flying trapeze artists topped the bill. The following year, with the outbreak of the war in 1914, it was the last year that the circus functioned until 1920.

This peaceful snapshot of rural life exists as such a contrast to the unimaginable horror that Simmons would have experienced at the Battle of the Somme. This opportunity for quaint enjoyment would soon be fractured, for everyone, only one year after this work was created.

Image of Napoleon Rancy Marque, Lyon.

Sydney Noel Simmons

Sydney Noel Simmons pursued a career as a painter and designer from a young age. Before the war he exhibited at the Chenil Gallery in Chelsea which promoted much of the work of Augustus John; the New English Art Club, one of the most respected exhibiting societies in the British art world at the time; the Manchester Gallery of Fine Art, which displayed top quality contemporary art and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, another prestigious institution.

He had an artist’s studio, firstly at Bolton Studios, Chelsea and then at the King’s Studio on the King’s Road. The titles recorded in his exhibition history indicate that it is likely that he travelled to Spain and North Africa.

Simmons enlisted in the army in September of 1914 but before this he had spent ten years in the Territorials and four years in the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps (OTC). Simmons went to France to fight in February 1915 and was made a temporary Lieutenant.

Simmons was involved in the Battle of the Somme with his unit, carrying out observational duties. A Surrey Advertiser report of 26th August of that year noted that Noel ‘was chosen for observational duty on account of his utter fearlessness’. Simmons was wounded while carrying out his duties in the Battle of the Somme and sadly died from his wounds after returning to England to recover. He was only 35 when he died.