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Gardner and the Groundhog

Winter Landscape—Sunlit Hill, c. 1925
George Gardner Symons (American, 1863-1930)
Oil on canvas; 41 x 47 x 1 1/2 in.
Martha C. Stevens Memorial Art Collection
George Gardner Symons, c. 1920
Groundhog Day Celebration
With Groundhog Day soon to bring Punxsutawney Phil from his winter abode to predict an early spring or six more weeks of cold weather, we thought we would take a look at our own shadow and discuss an artist who painted both winter and spring seasons in the two disparate locales he lived and worked in. Here we look at George Gardner Symons’ Winter Landscape—Sunlit Hill and Sand Dunes, and find parallels between them and the two potential futures that could be predicted by America’s favorite groundhog.
Art, Nature, and Travel
George Gardner Simon was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1863. As a young Jewish man, his concern for rising anti-Semitic sentiments eventually led him to change his last name from Simon to the far more cryptic Symons. He had at least three undying passions: art, nature, and travel. In his life as a travelling plein air painter he successfully combined the three. He spent the years of his young adulthood studying at the Chicago Art Institute, and travelling across Europe learning from the Impressionist greats of the time. It was during this time that he met a fellow painter and eventual lifelong friend, William Wendt. The pair were inseparable, and in 1884 became two of the earliest artists to discover Laguna Beach’s potential as a thriving artists’ colony, which they would both return to after the turn of the 20th Century. Despite the many beautiful seascapes and coastal scenes he painted, Symons is best known as a painter of snow-covered New England. During different periods, he had studios in New York City and Colrain, Massachusetts from which he ventured into the nearby forests and hills to paint scenes of rural winter.
A Long Winter
It is difficult to get a feel for Symons’ disposition. He has been simultaneously described as both someone who created works with a “a joyousness, a hopefulness, a certain wide-eyed, jubilant outlook,” and someone whose works are “somber in tone.” It is difficult not to side with the latter party considering that one of his submissions for the 13th Annual exhibition of American Artists' at the Art Institute of Chicago was just titled, Sorrow. Perhaps Symons was the type to spot his own shadow and retreat into six more weeks of winter darkness. His impressionistic style, was well suited to his subject matter though. Thick brush strokes form light, airy snowbanks and glossy reflections in the rivers and streams flowing through his New England paintings. In his own lifetime, he was described as the best American painter of snow scenes and his works are now held in some of the most prestigious institutions in the United States.
Sand Dunes, c. 1905
George Gardner Symons (American, 1863-1930)
Oil on canvas; 18 x 30 in.
Gift of The Blanche L. Dolph and Lucille McGaughey Estate Memorial Art Collection
An Early Spring
All said though, there is something uplifting about Symons' works. Even though the scene of Winter Landscape—Sunlit Hill is desolate, there is certainly a warmth found in his palette, which throws the snow into wonderful contrast. Maybe he was the type to predict an early spring after all. As noted above, early in his career Symons found his way westward and fell in love. For an artist so characterized by his ability to capture the stark landscapes of the Northeast, his paintings of the Grand Canyon and Laguna Beach stand in opposition to this. Sun-drenched canyons and beaches brimming with the potential energy of summer became his favorite subjects during the multiple visits to Laguna Beach, California and Arizona between 1902 and 1915. Now painting bluffs, oceans, and dramatic rock faces, Symons employed the same strategies he used in painting rolling, snow-covered hills. The result is best described by one critic as a “direct communion with nature.”
The world's most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil
Groundhog Day Celebration
Maybe Symons would have hoped for a longer winter to paint one of his favorite blanketed subjects. Alternatively, he could have hoped for a California spring to paint a coast bathed in spring or summer sun. Despite only having a cursory understanding of what winter even is in Southern California, in a show of comradery for the vast swaths of frozen United States we hope that Punxsutawney Phil decides that spring comes early this year!
Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change upon further research.
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