Happy Birthday, Simeon Solomon

Simeon Solomon was a Jewish Pre-Raphaelite painter. He was born 9 October, 1840 at No. 3 Sandys Street, Bishopsgate, London, England. Were he alive today he’d be turning 172.

Solomon was the eighth and last child Michael (Meyer) Solomon, manufacturer of Leghorn hats, and artist Catherine Levy. Two of his older siblings, Abraham and Rebecca, were also painters. It was Abraham, in fact, who first gave painting instruction to Solomon around 1850.

In 1852 he began attending the Royal Academy where, that same year, his sister’s work was being exhibited. At the Academy, Solomon became friends with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the other Pre-Raphaelites, their associates, and Dandy and Decadent poet, Algernon Charles Swinburne.

His first exhibition at the Academy took place in 1858 and, until 1872, he continued exhibiting — also at the Dudley Gallery. The subject matter of his work was in many ways typical of the Pre-Raphaelites although also drawn from The Tanakh. In 1865 he contributed illustrations to Swinburne’s posthumously-published pornographic novel, Lesbia Brandon. Some of his high-profile patrons included Eleanor Tong ColtartJames Leathart, and Lord Battersea.

Simeon Solomon - Three Priests - 1865
Three Priests – 1865

Simeon Solomon - Love in Autumn - 1866
Love in Autumn – 1866

His career came to an abrupt halt in 1873, when he was arrested in a public toilet for “attempting to commit sodomy” and was fined £100. The following year he was arrested again, in Paris, and sentenced to three months in prison.

Simeon Solomon - The Annunciation - 1877
The Annunciation – 1877


Simeon Solomon 1886

In 1884, battling alcoholism, he entered St. Giles’s Workhouse on Endell Street, a so-called “spike,” where he continued to create a large body of work. In his later years, he counted among his fans Decadent poets Lionel Johnson and Ernest Dowson of  W. B. Yeats and Ernest Rhys‘s Rhymers’ Club as well as Decadent writer/aristocrat, Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock.

On 14 August, 1905, Solomon died from complications owing to his alcohol addiction and he was buried at the Jewish Cemetery in Willesden.

Some of his work is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum and at Leighton House Museum but for most of the years since his death his reputation descended into obscurity except among those deeply interested in the Pre-Raphaelites. The first time I became aware of him was reading Oscar Wilde‘s De Profundis where he lamented “That all my charming things were to be sold: my Burne-Jones drawings: my Whistler drawings: my Monticelli: my Simeon Solomons: my china: my Library…” In the past few years he seems to be undergoing a reappraisal. Fairly recently he was the subject of retrospectives at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and London’s Ben Uri Gallery.

Simeon Solomon - Creation - 1890
Creation – 1890

Simeon Solomon in 1896
Simeon Solomon in 1896

For books that cover Simeon Solomon, look for (or request) Solomon: An appreciation by Julia Ellsworth Ford (1908), The Victorian Romantics 1850-70: The Early Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, Burne-Jones, Swinburne, Simeon Solomon and Their Associates by T. Earle Welby (1929), From Prodigy to Outcast: Simeon Solomon – Pre-Raphaelite Artist by Jewish Museum and Rickie Burman (2001), Love Revealed: Simeon Solomon And the Pre-Raphaelites by Colin Cruise, Victoria Osborne, Roberto C. Ferrari and Debra N. Mancoff (2005).

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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