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The Story of REM
The only London screever to be included on a touristic guide to London!
I have known about REM for many years, and for all that time his identity has remained a mystery to me. A real enigma for anybody researching history, is the coming across a group of photographs, and then, like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to put the pieces together and make sense of it all. Such was the case with REM.
Here for the first time (with photographs) is ‘part’ of the story of REM, as reported by the Daily Mail 1935.
Street Artist’s Secret
I talked yesterday to a man whose paintings have been praised by critics throughout the world, and who has exhibited in many of the famous salons of Europe. He emptied his pockets and produced a penny-all there was, he said, between himself and starvation.
The man was “REM” the pavement painter, says a “Daily Mail” correspondent. His pitch outside St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar-square, has been seen by almost every Londoner, and nearly every visitor to London for years past.
Thousands have speculated as to the identity of this bearded, cultured man who so resolutely hid the secret of his life behind the cognomen “REM.” It was revealed—at Bow-street Police Court.
“REM” is Thomas Reynolds, aged 50. He was charged with causing an obstruction with his paintings, and was fined 10 shillings.
PARIS AND NEW YORK
From the police court he returned to his pitch with a bundle of canvases and painting materials, and laid them down as he has done every day for 10 years. But he did not open them. He looked sadly at his pitch and said, “You will see me no more.”
And this was the story the artist who was forced to make the paving stones his canvas told me:-
“I have been painting all my life, and even now, with only a penny in my pocket, I would rather starve than not paint. I was born in the north of England of poor parents, but at an early age I went to Paris.
“I was a pupil of Jean Paul Laurens, the historical painter, and I have worked with Bouguereau. For several years I exhibited at the salon de Paris and in New York, and the private exhibitions I held were visited by hundreds.
“I enjoyed life in Montmartre, in Monte Carlo, and Rio de Janeiro, and painted many world famous men and woman.
“Then came the war. I joined up, and when I returned I was faced with destitution. Nobody wanted me or my paintings, and in sheer desperation I became a street artist.
“For ten years now I have been painting outside St. Martin’s The Rev. P. McCormick said I could remain there. Now, after all that time, I am forced to go…….
“I don’t mind my name being revealed, I have nothing to be ashamed of, except that it might pain my friends and gratify my enemies.
“I have a little back room in Chelsea, where I shall be able to carry on my painting, but it means starvation for me. I have received many commissions on my pitch, some as high as 50 guineas, but you cannot get commissions in a back room.
“I have been to famous houses in London and have painted portraits for as much as £250, but, in spite of all the money I have earned, I have been unable to save. I have spent it buying the best materials, and in helping some other unfortunates.
“I NEVER BEG”
“I do not think they would appreciate my realistic work,” he said. “I paint the truth and do not exaggerate to impress the public, like some modern artists.”
Close by us was another pavement artist holding out a cap to passers-by.
“That is a thing I shall never do,” said “REM.” “I always work with my back to the people, and if they want to drop me a copper or so they do, but I never beg.”
Published in the Daily Mail; Friday 19th July 1935
There are many stories about REM. He started on the pavements as a screever back in the early 1920’s and during the 1930’s moved to producing portraits on canvas (a Boardman). He was featured nationwide on the weekly BBC Radio show “In Town Tonight” The church of St Martin’s gave him a special permit to paint outside, and he painted many important visitors to London, including the President of Brazil. Rem was very well known in London, and visitors to the Metropolis included him as one of the “Must See” sights of London. He was even the feature of a collector’s card by Churchman’s Cigarettes.
“You will see me no more”
After this article in the Daily Mail, REM failed to turn up at his pitch outside St Martin’s Church….many national newspapers published an appeal asking “Where is REM?” with one even offering a substantial reward for information……but, true to his word, Rem was never seen again.
Written & Researched by Philip Battle
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