|LOVE REVEALED I SIMEON SOLOMON|
Early Works and First Exhibitions
Simeon Solomon was born into an observant Jewish family in Bishopgate, London, in 1840, and was the youngest of eight children. His elder brother Abraham (1823-1862) was already an artist, and his sister Rebecca (1832-1886) would later become one too. The young Solomon showed precocious talent.
This section of the exhibition introduces his early career, from the remarkable drawings he made when barely in his teens to the first public showings of his work in the second half of the 1850s. Many of his earliest works are inspired by his family's Jewish culture and tradition and are testimonials to his interest in belief, devotion and ritual which can be observed throughout his work.
In late 1857 or early 1858, Solomon met Dante Gabriel Rossetti and joined the Pre-Raphaelite circle. The witty young Simeon soon became a favourite of the group, in particular with Edward Burne-Jones with whom he struck up a close friendship. Solomon participated in the artistic projects of the Pre-Raphaelites, who in this year became interested in his work, for example in the two versions of The Painter's Pleasaunce .
Upon the initiative of the Dalziel brothers - who ran the largest and most well-known studio for wood engraving of the day - templates for a book of representations of Old Testament stories were produced in the first half of the 1860s. These were published in 1881 in Dalziels' Bible Gallery . An expanded version re-titled Art Pictures from the Old Testament appeared in 1894. Examples of both editions with Solomon's illustrations are on display in the exhibition.
The oil painting A Young Musician Employed in the Temple Service During the Feast of Tabernacles , marked the beginning of an exploration of a new type of subject, one that would become uniquely associated with him: the evocation of religious fervour through a single, rapt figure.
Experiments in Beauty
As the 1860s progressed, Solomon began to experiment with new subject matter. Many of the works of this period focus on the female figure. Compositions such as Poetry and Lady in a Chinese Dress depict a woman in an interior, which reveal an intense awareness of prevailing Aesthetic tastes, for example in the Chinese robe, and the ceramics and lily, evident in Lady in a Chinese Dress .
Solomon also produced 'Aesthetic' works which feature groups of figures in an interior, such as A Youth Relating Tales to Ladies and A Prelude by Bach . Both works, with their languid, embracing couples, have an atmosphere of drowsy eroticism which is distinctive to Solomon.
Many paintings and watercolours of this period, in which Solomon explores variations on the theme of the female figure in a classical setting - frequently inspired by the figure of Sappho - provide a graphic illustration of the shift in the artist's concerns during this time from Biblical to classical subjects. Solomon's classical works reach their culmination in the painting Habet! , which he exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art in 1865, and was hailed as his most successful and important work to date.
The Dudley Gallery opened in London in 1865 and provided a new forum where artists could exhibit works with more progressive subjects than those usually accepted at the Royal Academy. This section of the exhibition explores the ritual and religious images that Solomon made in the 1860s and 70s, most of which were exhibited for the first time at the Dudley Gallery.
Solomon's ritual paintings often feature young men in the roles of idealised rabbis, priests or acolytes. Subtle colour harmonies combine with a variety of surface textures and gum to create sumptuous painterly effects. In perhaps his most unusual ritual work Heliogabalus, High Priest of the Sun and Emperor of Rome, 118-122 AD , Solomon depicts the ancient Roman emperor who declared himself to be a sun-god. Solomon's choice of Bacchus und Heliogabalus as subjects for paintings may also have had private meanings. Heliogabalus and Bacchus's Greek counterpart Dionysos were sexually ambiguous figures: both were bisexual and associated with transvestism. Without doubt, these implications of illicit sexuality possessed a special allure for Solomon and his circle.
In 1871 Solomon published a prose poem, A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep , which he dedicated to Edward Burne-Jones. The imagery found in A Vision of Love continued to appear in Solomon's drawings and paintings, not only during the period he was working on the poem, but for the rest of his career. Many of Solomon's works of the mid-1860s onward are variations on the theme of the male nude. Both the subjects he interpreted and their treatments were personal and unconventional, and were greeted with incomprehension and critical disquiet. The languid sensuality of male figures such as One Dreaming by the Sea and Dawn , both of which were shown at the Dudley Gallery in 1872, put into question conventional Victorian concepts of masculinity.
Beginning in 1869, Solomon collaborated consistently with Frederick Hollyer and supplied him with works to be reproduced by the platinotype process. As a result, his images found a wide circulation in homosexual circles and contributed to his 'cult' status in the years following his arrest in 1873. The watercolour Sacramentum Amoris , a deeply personal painting, was described by Solomon himself as 'the most beautiful picture I have painted.'
In 1873, Solomon was arrested, together with another man, and convicted of indecency. The artistic community began to distance itself from him; it became impossible for Solomon to exhibit his paintings and difficult for him to sell them. Growing poverty and increasing dependence on alcohol led to his spending his last years in a London workhouse, where he died in 1905. Although the scandal of his arrest effectively ended his public career, Solomon never stopped working. The last section of the exhibition focuses on the works of this period and offers the possibility to reassess his influence on artists who followed him.
Many of Solomon's late works are depictions of a single head, or two heads close together, drawn in crayons or coloured chalk. They personify abstract themes - such as Night, Love and Death - and their imagery is frequently derived from A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep .
After Solomon's death in August 1905, his work began to be reassessed. There were two memorial exhibitions in 1906, one at the Royal Academy and one at the Baillie Gallery, and in 1908 Julia Ellsworth Ford published the first book devoted to him, Simeon Solomon: An Appreciation . His visual imagination continued to influence artists in the late 19th and early 20th century, many of whom show a debt to his work, not only in their choice of subject matter. One of those in particular was E.R. Hughes (Night with her Train of Stars).