The son of a master carpenter, Joseph Syddall was born in Old Whittington in 1864.
After attending the local school, he went to work as a clerk in a Chesterfield solicitor’s office; a position he didn’t like at all. Fortunately, his artistic talent was recognised by Mary Swanwick, of Whittington Hall, who sponsored Syddall’s place at the Herkomer Institute in Bushey.
Sir Hubert von Herkomer (the celebrated German born British painter, illustrator and early pioneer of film) praised Syddall for his excellent pencil drawings and proclaimed him to be ‘the best draughtsman in England’. Along with two other students, Herkomer chose Syddall to illustrate Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles when it was published in the Graphic Magazine in 1891.
Syddall went on to divide his time between Chesterfield and London. He produced portraits and landscapes in oil, pastel and pencil, exhibiting at the Royal Academy on several occasions between 1898 and 1910. After World War One, he was commissioned to design the war memorials in Old Whittington and Dronfield.
Whilst attending the Herkomer Institute in Bushey, Syddall had met and befriended, fellow student, Annea Spong. In 1920, he decided to leave Chesterfield to set up home with her in Hampstead.
Tragedy struck for Syddall when, in the London Blitz, five of his friends were killed and much of his studio destroyed with a great number of his works. He died shortly afterwards, aged 78, on 13 January 1942.
He left a significant collection of what remained of his works to Annea who then bequeathed these to the Borough of Chesterfield in 1948.
We occasionally hold exhibitions of Sydall's work, see our upcoming exhibitions page to find out more. Alternatively you can have a look at some of Sydall's artworks in oil held in our collection, online at the Art UK website.