Friday, January 21, 2011
Simeon Solomon - Night
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 15,600 GBP
52 by 42 cm., 20 1/2 by 16 1/2 in.
signed with monogram l.l. and dated 1890 and inscribed, signed and dated on the backing paper: "NIGHT" by/ Simeon Solomon./ 1890
oil on board
Simeon Solomon was the younger brother of the artists Abraham and Rebecca who were known for their interesting but traditional Victorian genre paintings. Simeon developed a more visionary approach to art, developed from the paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Albert Moore and the poetry of Algernon Swinburne, all of whom he was closely associated with in the 1860s. He had studied at the Royal Academy Schools from 1855 and exhibited his first picture at the Academy The Mother of Moses in 1860. During this early period in his life, he was hailed as a genius and much praised for his bold illustrations of biblical scenes, some of which were made for Dalziel’s famous bible, and for his drawings of Jewish life and ritual. In 1871 everything changed when he was arrested for lewd conduct and shunned by his family and former friends. He was condemned to a life of squalor in the St Giles Workhouse in Holborn, making money by selling matches on the street. With his meagre earnings he bought artist’s materials and continued to draw (usually in coloured chalk) and his work developed a haunting Symbolist intensity. With a few loyal patrons and sympathetic friends, Solomon survived for over thirty years living this precarious life and producing some of the most remarkable drawings of the period. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s his pictures were popular among the undergraduate students of Oxford and the champion of the Aesthetes Oscar Wilde wrote to Lord Alfred Douglas from Reading Goal about his regret at the loss of his cherished drawings by Solomon. Following his death in 1905, accelerated by chronic alcoholism, his work was exhibited at the Baillie Gallery in London and at the Winter exhibition at the Royal Academy. In modern times he has again been judged to be one of the most important members of the Aesthetic movement and in a wider European context, an active exponent of Symbolism.
Night depicts an androgynous head representing the Greek god Hypnos, bedecked with blood-red poppies the flowers of sleep. The poppy is a floral symbol which appears throughout Symbolist art both in Britain and further afield; we find it in the work of the Belgian Fernand Knopff whose work closely parallels that of Solomon and in the paintings of Burne-Jones and Rossetti. A later devotee of Symbolism Thomas Cooper Gotch painted Death the Bride surrounded by poppies in 1895 whilst Frederick Sandys painted the female figure of Lethe gathering the flowers to induce sleep in the mid 1870s. The connection between opium (the drug of the bohemian decadents) and such images of languid dreaming figures is clear, although by the time Solomon painted Night he was far removed from the life of decadence which the ‘lotus eaters’ of Bohemia enjoyed. It is tragic to imagine that the gentle peace of sleep, with its dreams of beauty and atonement, may have been one of Solomon’s few comforts during these dark years of his life. It was certainly a theme which appears again and again in his work and in the Baillie Gallery exhibition there were several drawings and paintings of sleeping heads Night and Morning, Night and Her Child Sleep and The Winged and Poppied Sleep dated 1883. A very similar watercolour to the present painting (although reversed) is in the collection of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, whilst a double head study of 1888 entitled Night and Sleep containing similar elements and the same Pre-Raphaelite ‘Rossettian’ profile, is at Birmingham City Art Gallery. The pinnacle of Solomon’s preoccupation with the theme of sleep was his beautiful prose poem A vision of Love Revealed in Sleep which begins 'Upon the waning of the night, at that time when the stars are pale, and when dreams wrap us about more closely, when a brighter radiance is shed upon our spirits, three sayings of the wise King came unto me. These are they: -