Solomon, Simeon

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SOLOMON, SIMEON

SOLOMON, SIMEON (1840–1905), British artist. Born in London, he was the son of Michael Solomon, a prosperous hat importer and the second Jew to be made a freeman of the city of London. The young Simeon was encouraged by his brother, Abraham Solomon (1823–1862), a highly gifted but conventional genre artist, who died the very day he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and by his sister, Rebecca Solomon (1832–1886), also a Pre-Raphaelite artist whose work was widely exhibited in her lifetime; she had a stabilizing effect on Simeon during the latter's childhood. Simeon, a child prodigy, entered the Royal Academy before he was 15 and exhibited at 18, the youngest artist ever to have been shown there.

He created a stir with a picture of the infant Moses set adrift on the Nile and another entitled "Habet," inspired by a contemporary novel, The Gladiators. At one Royal Academy exhibition, works by all three Solomons were on show. Simeon Solomon was influenced by the aesthetics of the pre-Raphaelites, Millais and Burne-Jones, with both of whom he was friendly (Burne-Jones said Solomon was the greatest artist in the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) and who had a profound effect on his work, which some critics felt to be unmanly and sentimental. In 1871 Simeon also published a prose poem A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep which expresses the ideals of his later paintings and drawings. His public career ended in 1873 when he was arrested in a public lavatory and jailed for a short term for a homosexual offense. At the age of 44, he was admitted to a workhouse. To pay for liquor and drugs, he went on making drawings which he sold to dealers very cheaply. These drawings betray nothing of the degraded circumstances under which he was living. Forgotten for several decades, Solomon's work was rediscovered in the 1960s. His painting, with its soft and subtle gradations, evokes haunting visions. The half-naked angels, somber rabbis, Greek Orthodox priests, and delicately outlined heads of dreamers fail to give any clue to the artist's strange personality. In recent years his reputation has risen, in part because of his status as an ethnic and sexual outsider in Victorian society.

bibliography:

J.E. Ford, Simeon Solomon (Eng., 1908); Werner, in: Arts Magazine, 40 (May 1966), 49–51; Lambourne, in: jhset, 21 (1962–67), 274–86; A. Rubens, A Jewish Iconography (1954), nos. 1368 a–k. add. bibliography: odnb on line; J. Daniels et al., Solomon: A Family of Painters (1985); S. Reynolds, The Vision of Simeon Solomon (1985).

[Alfred Werner]