Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Simeon Solomon - Head of a Girl #2

Watercolour on paper
Signed with monogram dated 1889

7.48 inches wide 9.25 inches high

In the 1860's, Simeon Solomon was perhaps the most influential young artist in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Inspired by Rossetti, Burne-Jones and his own Jewish background, he produced sensuous and idyllic images of classical scenes, decorative figures and religious rituals. Through his art and his engaging personality, he influenced most of his contemporaries in Burne-Jones's circle and also the young avant-garde painters exhibiting, like him, at the Dudley Gallery. From the 1880's his mystic chalk drawings of heads were popular with aesthetes and decadents.

Simeon Solomon was born into a prosperous and distinguished Jewish family in London. His brother Abraham and his sister Rebecca were also artists. His contemporaries at the Royal Academy Schools, in the late 1850's included Albert Moore and William Blake Richmond. Like them, Solomon came under Pre-Raphaelite influence at this time. He showed works, mainly oil paintings, at the Royal Academy from 1858 to 1872. At first, they had biblical and religious themes, but from 1865 he began to show classical subjects. In this year he also began to show watercolours at the newly opened Dudley Gallery. His classical interests were reinforced by visits to Rome in 1867 and 1870, where in 1870 he wrote the mystical Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep, published privately in 1871.

Simeon Solomon was a close friend of Swinburne, whose poems inspired many of his paintings, however he was unbalanced by Swinburne's alcoholism and fascination with perversity. He was arrested on a homosexual charge in 1873 and his career collapsed. He subsequently led an irregular life sponging off his relatives and artist friends and after 1884 living intermittently in St Giles' Workhouse. Flashes of the old humour and talent remained. He said he preferred the Workhouse because it was, so central and although the chalk drawings he produced for dealers in the last thirty years of his life are very variable in quality, the best are deeply evocative and original in style. They should be placed not so much in the Pre-Raphaelite but rather the Symbolist movement. Many gained a wider public in their day through Hollyer's photographs.

This is one of the few fine drawings that Solomon produced at the end of his life, despite the ravages of indigence and alcoholism. Much of his later work was dismissed at the time largely because they were not in fashion. These pensive heads have more in common with the work of such continental artists as Fernand Khnopff and Gustave Moreau. Also the critical attitude towards these works has been intimately related to the general attitude towards homosexuality. However, in his later works Solomon set out to explore particular ways of expressing ideas and emotions around a subject, which was becoming increasingly taboo. By choosing to show only heads, Solomon was able to reject the physical aspects of love in favour of the emotional passion. Few of these heads stare out at us, they are to be observed; self-contained, their eyes are firmly focused on a land we can only imagine.

Many of his works were included in the exhibition, TheSolomon Family of Painters, at the Geffrey Museum, London, in 1985 and Simon Reynolds' monograph on the artist, The Vision of Simeon Solomon, (Catalpa Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire 1985.

1. London, Geffrey Museum, 1985, The Solomon Family of Painters, (catalogue of the exhibition), page 30

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