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Simeon Solomon

May - 16 - 2013
Simeon Solomon

A photograph by David Wilkie Wynfield of Solomon in oriental costume.

Simeon Solomon was born in  1840 into a prosperous Jewish family in the City of London. He was the youngest  of eight children, of whom eldest brother Abraham and sister Rebecca were also  artists. Solomon would become the most famous of his artistic siblings,  befriending and working alongside Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti and  Edward Burne-Jones, fraternising with poet Algernon Swinburne, and exhibiting at  the Royal Academy and Dudley Gallery in London.

When Burne-Jones met Simeon Solomon in the late 1850s, he thought his work as imaginative as anything he had ever seen. Solomon showed precocious talent, exhibiting his first Royal Academy picture at the age of 18 in 1858. During the 1860s he was a highly influential young artist, one of the circle which was moving towards aestheticism, and which included Rossetti, Burne-Jones and the poet Swinburne.

Solomon’s 1860 Royal Academy oil painting Moses was not well liked by many critics, but William Makepeace Thackeray paid him due compliments in his Roundabout Papers. The Pre-Raphaelite patron Thomas E. Plint purchased the picture and five others from Solomon, thus becoming one of his first important patrons. Other Old Testament-themed Royal Academy contributions from the next few years included Hosannah (1861) and The Child Jeremiah (1862). He would continue to exhibit at the Royal Academy until 1872.

Solomon and Swinburne met in 1863, they became close friends and exercised a mutual influence on each other. Swinburne was at this time reading widely in classical literature including Ovid, Homer and Euripides. Inspired by this and by three trips to Italy between 1866 and 1870, Solomon was one of the instigators of the revival of classicism in the 1860s; this aspect of his work is shown in The Little Improvisatice. — Peter Nahum.

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864

His wealthy patrons included  Lord Battersea, Eleanor Tong Coltart, and James Leathart. However, in 1873, at  the height of his artistic fame, Solomon was arrested and convicted of attempted  sodomy in a public urinal off Oxford Street in London. This arrest effectively  brought an end to Solomon’s public career; however, he continued to produce a  large body of work until his death in 1905. The last thirty-three years of his  life were undoubtedly affected by an addiction to alcohol, which is more than  likely responsible for the erratic state of his life, which appears to have been  lived both in and out of poverty. Despite this, Solomon’s work and perceived  bohemian lifestyle was admired by Rhymers’ Club poets Lionel Johnson and Ernest  Dowson, and was he was befriended by the eccentric poet and Baltic/German aristocrat Count Stenbock. Solomon died a pauper on 14 August 1905. He was buried in Willesden Jewish Cemetery.

Examples of his work are on permanent display at the Victoria and Albert Museum and at Leighton House. In December 2005/January 2006, there was an important retrospective of his work, held at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and in London at the Ben Uri Gallery in October / November 2006.

Resources on the Web:

Biography and catalog of works

The English-language Wikipedia

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