Thursday, October 9, 2008

168 Years of Simeon Solomon

Today is the 168th birthday of the gay, Anglo-Jewish, Victorian artist Simeon Solomon (1840-1905). And on Yom Kippur of all days! I wonder if he would be celebrating or atoning? The image you see here is a Self-Portrait (1859, Tate Britain) from when he was about 19 years old. For about fifteen years now, I've been doing research on Solomon and his work. In more recent years, I have been working on a long-term project of transcribing and publishing his extant letters that are located in archives around the world. I've also been writing and giving conference presentations on his older sister Rebecca Solomon (1832-1886), who was a talented artist in her own right (his older brother Abraham was also an artist). Solomon was part of the larger Pre-Raphaelite circle, which included artists like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and writers like Algernon Charles Swinburne. People are fascinated by the lives of these people, from Rossetti unearthing his wife's casket to retrieve his poetry manuscripts, to Swinburne going to brothels in order to be whipped. In that light, how could you not be interested in Solomon, who was arrested in 1873 for public indecency and attempted sodomy in a public urinal? But all salaciousness and infamy aside, Solomon has fascinated me because his work captures a unique spirit of his time. He was instrumental in generating a new consciousness in Victorian art with Jewish-themed works like The Mother of Moses (1860, Delaware Art Museum) and homoerotic works like Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene (1864, Tate Britain) and Bacchus (1867, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery) during a period when both subjects were seen as exotic and taboo. Despite his acknowledged talents, the scandal eventually ended his public career and he lived out the rest of his life as an impoverished street artist. My friend CC is nearing completion of a dissertation on him, and it promises to be a fantastic assessment of his life after the arrest. In the meantime, if you're interested in knowing more about Solomon, check out my website, the Simeon Solomon Research Archive, or get a copy of the 2005 exhibition catalogue Love Revealed: Simeon Solomon and the Pre-Raphaelites.

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