Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rebecca Solomon (1832-1886)

Having posted the other day about the relaunch of the Simeon Solomon Research Archive, I realized that today, September 26, 2010, is the 178th birthday of his sister Rebecca Solomon. She was an artist in her own right, and a highly successful one at that, considering the restrictions placed upon women at the time. CC and I have created a section devoted to her on the SSRA, where you can find a list of secondary sources about her work, her lifetime exhibition history, and a selected list of her paintings. The picture you see here is her 1866 watercolor The Wounded Dove (University of Wales, Aberystwyth), which was owned by the Welsh squire George Powell, a friend of both her brother and the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. The picture isn't perfect in capturing with anatomical correctness the young woman seated in the chair, but the way she holds the dove with closed eyes certainly alludes to Dante Gabriel Rossetti's paean to his recently deceased wife in Beata Beatrix, a version of which he was painting at this time. Rebecca's picture shows her awareness of the Japonisme craze circulating among these artists at this time, as evidenced in the imported china and fans in the background on the mantle. Below if the biographical essay I've written about Rebecca Solomon for the SSRA. It updates and is adapted from an essay I published about her in The Review of the Pre-Raphaelite Society in 2004.

Like many women artists, Rebecca Solomon has been overshadowed in art history by the male artists who surrounded her. In her case, what is more tragic is that no photograph exists that could show us what she even looked like. Despite living in the shadows of her artist brothers Abraham and Simeon, her relationship with each, especially Simeon, was strong. She shared studios with them at different points in her career, and she socialized in their circles of artist friends. She exhibited almost annually at the Royal Academy for 17 years, and participated in other exhibitions such as the British Institution and the Dudley Gallery. She was so well known among her contemporary female artists that she joined 37 of them, including Barbara Leigh Bodichon and Henrietta Ward, in a petition to have the Royal Academy open classes to women. Despite what amounted to a potentially lucrative artistic career, however, Rebecca has been largely forgotten and has had little written about her and her work, even though at the time her pictures were often reviewed favorably. Behind the Curtain (1858, Private Collection) was cited by a critic in Bentley’s Miscellany as “a first rate work.” On Peg Woffington’s Visit to Triplet (1860, Private Collection), considered her greatest success, the Art Journal wrote, “This is really a picture of great power … gratifying, encouraging, and full of hope…. [Solomon] adds another name to the many who receive honour as great women of the age."

Rebecca Solomon was born on 26 September 1832, the youngest of the three daughters born into the artistically-inclined middle-class Jewish family. Her mother Catherine Levy Solomon was an amateur artist of miniatures, and her brother Abraham was a painter who became famous for social commentary genre scenes such as Second Class—The Parting (1855) and Waiting for the Verdict (1857). Rebecca studied under her brother Abraham and attended Spitalfields School of Design. She shared his studios at 50 Upper Charlotte Street, from at least 1851 to 1856 and at 18 Gower Street from 1857 to 1862, the year of his death. Among her early works were copies after old masters and modern painters such as William Powell Frith, but she established herself in the contemporary world assisting artists such as the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. The best known example of her work is a version of Millais's Christ in the House of his Parents, which sold at auction in 2008 for more than £600,000 and is now in a private collection.

Contrary to what one would expect from a traditional middle-class Jewish family at the time, Rebecca did socialize with her brothers’ non-Jewish friends. Through at least the mid-1860s, George du Maurier and his wife were regular guests at the Solomons’ conversaziones and Rebecca in turn attended the Mauriers’ dinner parties. Rebecca also was friends with Agnes “Aggie” MacDonald (later Mrs. Edward Poynter, future President of the Royal Academy). On at least one occasion Aggie stayed with “Beckie” and her family at 18 John Street, Bedford Row, and on the visit of Aggie's sister Alice Kipling (mother of the novelist Rudyard Kipling), Beckie threw one of her "wildly incongruous" parties.

As Simeon’s immediate elder sibling, Rebecca may have had a hand in influencing his interest in Hebrew and Jewish subject matter, such as his first two Royal Academy offerings “Isaac Offered” (1858) and Moses (1860). Following the death of Abraham, these two siblings developed a closer relationship both personally and professionally. Rebecca shared Simeon’s studio at 106 Gower Street from about 1865 to 1867, and then at 12 Fitzroy Street from 1868 into at least the mid 1870s. The opening of the Dudley Gallery in 1865 with Simeon on the Administrative Committee provided Rebecca with another major venue to exhibit her watercolors. She also assisted him during his travels to Italy by acting as his agent with important patrons such as the Liverpool shipping magnate Frederick Leyland. Early on, however, Rebecca discovered the importance of exhibiting and marketing her own work, and she apparently did this with zeal. She participated in exhibitions throughout Britain, including in Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, and Manchester. As an illustrator, her work appeared in The Churchman’s Family Magazine and London Society, and her paintings also were reproduced in papers such as the Art Journal and the Illustrated London News.

The greatest difficulty the art historian has in analyzing Rebecca’s work is finding many of her pictures. Very few are in public collections, and rarely do they come up for auction. As a genre painter, she painted works that often reflected gender and social class differences. Among these are The Governess (1854, Private Collection), where the sad governess looks longingly at the well-to-do happily married parents of the child she instructs, and A Young Teacher (1861, Private Collection), where a child playfully instructs her mixed-race nanny. She also painted historical and literary themes, probably because she had aspirations to be recognized as a painter of serious subjects. The Fugitive Royalists (1862, location unknown), for instance, depicts a scene during the English Civil War where an aristocrat and her son are offered asylum by a Puritan mother and her sick daughter, and The Arrest of the Deserter (1861, Israel Museum) is based on a scene in the 1844 comedy Dominique the Deserter by William H. Murray, where the main character in seventeenth-century clothing is led away in handcuffs by two soldiers while a woman pleads for his innocence. Simeon’s interactions with the Pre-Raphaelites also proved influential on Rebecca by the mid-1860s. Her painting Woman on a Balcony (ca. 1865, Private Collection) follows the pattern of the Venetian portrait-style works of Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and others of the same period, with a beautiful woman leaning out on a balcony gazing into the distance. The Wounded Dove (1866, University of Wales, Aberystwyth) reflects the Japonisme craze of the day, with a young woman, her hair down, caring for an injured dove, surrounded by Chinese ceramics and Japanese fans.

Little of Rebecca’s life after the mid-1860s is known. It has been said that she may have had a brief liaison with the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, but this is highly unlikely. She visited Italy at least twice during the late 1860s. She continued to exhibit along with her brother, and was included in the 1874 Society of Lady Artists Exhibition. Her career declined about the same time her brother’s did after he was arrested and charged with attempted sodomy. However, more recent evidence has surfaced that shows she was painting portraits into the late 1870s, including a posthumous picture of Anthony Rothschild for the Jews’ Free School, and the 1881 census shows her still listed as “artist painter” with a studio at 182 Great Titchfield Street in Marylebone, London. Supposedly she became an alcoholic like her brother, but this too is unsubstantiated. She was injured on the 20 November 1886 by a hansom cab that ran her over in the street, and later died of her wounds in hospital.

Teenage Dream

I spent most of Saturday in a funk for various reasons. I tried some shopping therapy, which sort of helped, but not completely. I went out with JM and AR at night, hoping that would help too, but even then I was feeling out of it and distant, emotionally bruised at times as well. Oddly, what has been making me feel better is listening repeatedly on my iPod to Katy Perry's song "Teenage Dream." I'm still trying to figure out why. Certainly it could simply be the beat of the song. It encourages easy dancing and has an uplifting pulse running through it. It could also be the timbre. I'm often affected by songs that has the singer reach a particular pitch, but usually they're ballads, not pop songs. Maybe it's the lyrics, although in general they're nothing special here. Still, I do find some sections surprisingly meaningful, like "Let’s go all the way tonight / No regrets, just love / We can dance until we die / You and I / We’ll be young forever." Or in another part: "So take a chance / And don’t ever look back / Don’t ever look back." Admittedly I'm finding meaning because of my emotional funk. I'm seeking answers to understand why I feel like I do, and the lyrics, beat, and timbre all combine to encourage me to want to do something more, to invigorate myself with greater opportunities of discovery, to fight the negativity and darkness that creeps in sometimes. This is my life. I need to live it. Okay, sure, the song is all about a girl meeting the perfect guy, and I admit there's an element of desire in me that pines for that same feeling of innocence, that sensation of sheer bliss that comes with passion and desire, connecting completely with someone who makes you feel whole, giving yourself completely to them because you trust them. I do desire that, partly because I missed out on that during my own teenage years, partly because I've been burned so many times, partly because I find my youth passing me by and the potential for those opportunities are becoming less and less likely to happen. The song is sugar pop fantasy, and yet it has this strange subtle power to drive me to want more for myself. "Don't ever look back"...for sure. I would post the video directly here, but EMI has prohibited embedding, so here's the link to it on YouTube.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Relaunch of the SSRA

My colleague and friend Carolyn Conroy in England and I have relaunched the Simeon Solomon Research Archive that I started 10 years ago. I must give Carolyn full credit for the current look of the site, which looks spectacular. bklynbiblio readers may remember some of my Solomon posts, including one on the passing of art historian Lionel Lambourne earlier this year, and a celebration of Solomon's birthday. The image you see here is one of his more beautiful works, a watercolor entitled Portrait of an Italian Youth from 1869, when he was in Rome on his third trip (image courtesy of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth). Below is the official release we issued to colleagues and collectors around the world.


Ten years ago this week, I announced the first version of the Simeon Solomon Research Archive which I published on the Internet. From the feedback I have received through the years, it has been a significant resource for scholars and students interested in the life and work of Simeon Solomon (1840-1905), the gay, Anglo-Jewish, Pre-Raphaelite/Aesthetic artist. A debt of gratitude goes out to Julia Kerr of, who has assisted me with the hosting of the SSRA over the past few years.

Today, I am pleased to announce with my Solomon colleague Dr. Carolyn Conroy (PhD, University of York, 2010) the relaunching of the Simeon Solomon Research Archive with a new URL (, a new look, and more features than ever before. As you will see from the "About Us" page on the site, Conroy recently completed her dissertation on Solomon's life and career after his 1873 arrest for attempted sodomy. Her dissertation rewrites the past false assumption that Solomon essentially disappeared after his arrest, reconstructing his life based on heretofore unpublished information and demonstrating his surprisingly active level of artistic production for the next 32 years until his death. I have been actively engaged in research and publications on both Simeon and his sister Rebecca Solomon since the 1990s. Although my PhD dissertation is on a topic other than the Solomons, I am continuing to work on their extant correspondence and other Solomon-related projects.

Highlights of this latest version of the SSRA include:
** a complete redesign of the site by Conroy, including a site-search to assist in the finding of information
** a fully updated bibliography of about 300 secondary sources about Solomon from 1858 to 2010, with many of the early sources available in full text
** an image database of selected works of art by Solomon
** an exhibition history of works by Solomon
** a section devoted to the life and work of his artist sister Rebecca Solomon (1832-1886), including a biography, lifetime exhibition history, list of secondary sources, and beginning of an image database
** a planned section devoted to the life and work of his artist brother Abraham Solomon (1824-1862), including a biography, lifetime exhibition history, list of secondary sources, and beginning of an image database
** planned future enhancements including a page on Solomon's contributions to the Dalziels' Bible Gallery (1881)

Update your bookmarks to point to the new Simeon Solomon Research Archive at, and continue to check back for updates to the site as we continue to enhance it even more. Comments and suggestions are welcome, as are contributions from scholars who may have discovered a source of which we may not be aware.

Monday, September 20, 2010

World Alzheimer's Day 2010

September 21st is World Alzheimer's Day. According to their official website, this is "a day when the Alzheimer's Association joins with organizations and people around the globe to raise awareness about Alzheimer's and its impact on our families, communities and nations. Today, 35 million people worldwide are affected by Alzheimer's and related dementias, and this number is growing rapidly. World Alzheimer's Day is an opportunity to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease and the need for more education, support and research." bklynbiblio readers will recall last year's post about this and previously when I organized a team for the NYC Alzheimer's Memory Walk (we raised almost $1,200!). This year, Celebrity Champions like Jean Smart (pictured right) are helping to spread the word and to drum up financial support to help find a cure and provide much-needed assistance to those suffering from the disease and their caregivers. This year, the Borman Family Foundation will match dollar-for-dollar every donation made by midnight on September 21st. I just made a $25 donation, and their match will make it $50! Any donation amount will make a difference, so help combat this devastating disease today.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Paintings within Paintings

I was invited to attend a workshop today at the Yale Center for British Art in association with the exhibition Seeing Double: Portraits, Copies, and Exhibitions in 1820s London, which opened in June and is closing this coming weekend (link to the exhibition guide). The one-room show is a small but focused exhibition about paintings within paintings, frequently shown as if on exhibition in the painting itself. The exhibition centers around the 1829 painting you see above, Interior of the British Institution Gallery by John Scarlett Davis. The scene depicts a gallery during an exhibition of modern British paintings, but as co-curator Catherine Roach pointed out during her gallery talk the picture in fact is artificially crafted. The two leading pictures that frame the left and right sides of the main archway are by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, two of the most important 18th-century British artists, and while we know both were in the 1829 exhibition, neither were hung in this location. This, plus the conscious rearrangement of other paintings on display, make us wonder why Davis would redesign such a space? Was it for pedagogical reasons for other artists? Was it to demonstrate his own skills as an artist? Was it meant to create a canon of masterworks of British paintings? And why the inclusion of the self-portrait by Reynolds, the 1st PRA (President of the Royal Academy), being displayed by Benjamin West, the 2nd PRA, to a viewer? Pictures such as this urge the viewer to look more closely at the inclusion of works of art in these pictures, and to reconsider their placement and value as such and for what purpose. The exhibition relates to Roach's forthcoming book on this topic, based on her recently completed dissertation.

Pictures such as these were not new in the 1820s. Paintings and prints had existed since the Renaissance of interiors of manor homes and palaces with art collections on the walls. Aristocrats traveling to Italy on the Grand Tour in the mid- to late 1700s would commission paintings of themselves standing amidst ancient works of art by artists such as Pompeo Batoni. Other artists, like Johann Zoffany, would paint galleries in museums to showcase the great works of art on display there as well. Co-curator Cassandra Albinson continued the gallery talk by drawing our attention to a small drawing by a woman artist of Thomas Lawrence's studio, in which one can make out many of his portrait paintings arranged in the studio as a showcase of his commissions at this time. What makes this drawing unique is that it is one of the only surviving examples of Lawrence's studio, which is unusual since he too was a PRA and a very important artist in his day.

We were given lunch and then listened to 3 short presentations by others working on topics related to this. Emerson Bowyer gave a very interesting talk about a bronze medal commemorating the renaming of the Louvre as the Musée Napoleon in 1802, designed by Dominique Vivant, Baron de Denon. The medal included on the back a display of the ancient sculptures appropriated from Rome and Florence as war booty and displayed in Paris. Bowyer considered the work as both a sculptural object and a form of commercial commodity, reducing the idea of ancient works of art to their financial value during Napoleon's imperial reign. Gustav Percivall spoke about J.M.W. Turner's painting Rome, from the Vatican. Raffaelle, Accompanied by La Fornarina, Preparing his Pictures for the Decoration of the Loggia, from about 1820. This painting includes in the foreground a number of works by the Italian Renaissance master Raphael, as well as a recreation of his decorative work in the loggia, and other unidentified pictures, all of which Percivall argued created organized chaos in the arrangement and significance of their presence on the canvas. (I wasn't always completely sure what he was talking about, and his ideas were challenged by a few people in the room.) Lastly, Bridge Alsdorf spoke about a small print from the 1890s by the Swiss-born artist Félix Vallotton. Shifting the focus away from pictures within pictures, Alsdorf drew attention to the idea of the spectator, as a caricature-like crowd of men gather before the window of a Parisian printseller gawking at his latest works for sale, which we, the audience, now cannot see. Following their presentations, there was a general discussion on various topics, including general issues about copies and reproduction, and the association of these paintings within paintings to printmaking and the commercial dissemination of art. All in all, the workshop made for an interesting afternoon of networking and intellectual repartee.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Autumn in New York 2010

It was a pleasure to wake up this morning and discover that the weather for the next week in New York City will be in the mid-70s, with lows dropping near 60 at night. All I could think about was, first, that I could wear one of my sports coats without sweating to death today and, second, that autumn was here. I did (black-and-white pinstripe blazer), but it isn't (gotta wait until Sep. 23). You can tell I get rather excited about autumn in New York. After this brutally hot and humid summer, I am looking forward to the weather cooling off, the leaves changing color, and my silk cashmere sweaters returning to the forefront of my wardrobe. In the art world, autumn is always a big kick-off season for exhibitions. Last week New York magazine published its annual fall preview issue, highlighting some of the big events opening up from September through November, including their top 20 art exhibitions. The challenge for me is that I'll be heading overseas in October, so I'm actually going to miss almost half of autumn in New York this year. I guess that means I have less time to see all these exhibitions, but fortunately many of them will still be on when I return. Here are a few that I'm eager to see:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art of course has a few blockbusters lined up for the fall, including "The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty" (Sep. 28-Jan. 2), an exhibition focusing on the Mongols in China during the 13th and 14th centuries, and "Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand" (Nov. 10-Apr. 10), which highlights the work of three of the great late 19th-/early 20th-century photographers. Of the three, I love Edward Steichen's work best. He managed to capture an incredible sense of atmosphere using photomechanical processes that he kept secret and few have ever been able to uncover. The image at the top of this post is one of Steichen's most popular and beautiful works, The Flatiron (1904), from the Met's collection.
  • Franz Xaver Messerschmidt will be at the Neue Galerie (Sep. 16-Jan. 10). While I have heard of this 18th-century sculptor, I know little about him, but the move from the neoclassical to the naturalistic in his busts should make this a fascinating exhibition.
  • Edward Hopper will be at the Whitney (Oct. 28-Apr. 10). I'm not a huge fan of Hopper, but there is something agonizingly urban about his work...the feeling of emptiness and solitude one can feel even in some of the most congested of places. (Think of Nighthawks [1942] and you'll see what I mean.)
  • Neo-Pop artist Jeff Koons will have a show at the Luxembourg & Dayan Gallery (Oct. 6-Jan. 21). People who love Koons these days think primarily of his large-scale puppy balloon sculptures, not the transgressive sex-filled cornucopias that first made him famous. Says New York magazine: "The uptown gallery partially restages one of the most howled-about exhibitions in New York art history: 'Made in Heaven,' Koons's 1991 depiction of himself in various states of coitus with his porn-star then-wife. Still outrageous, still prescient."
  • And finally there will be a fascinating counterbalance in the study of 20th-century art between classicism on the Upper East Side and abstraction in Midtown when the Guggenheim hosts "Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918–1936" (Oct. 1-Jan. 9) and the Museum of Modern Art hosts "Abstract Expressionist New York" (Oct. 3-Apr. 25). It will be interesting to see which show turns out to be more popular with visitors these days.
  • Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    Miami Beach and Delray Beach

    I returned today from another trip to Florida, spending the first 4 nights in South Florida visiting my old stomping grounds. I spent 2 nights in Miami Beach rooming with my friend NV. I shot the photo you see here from his balcony on the 15th floor. Standing out there, if you look to the left, you get a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean between other buildings, but this incredible view of Indian Creek and Biscayne Bay from his balcony is simply spectacular. We sauntered up and down Lincoln Road, and while parts of it are striving for cosmopolitan sophistication, by and large Miami Beach has become glamor-less bling. Even the gay scene that once dominated the area has been reduced to a few insignificant bars. NV and I did meet up with my friend CF for lunch on my 2nd day, visiting Coral Gables which, oddly, I don’t think I had ever visited before. Later that night NV and I got together with CB, and the 3 of us headed to Wilton Manors, near Fort Lauderdale, where we used to hang out almost every week some 6 to 7 years ago. We ate at our old standby, the Thai restaurant Galanga, which still has good food, and had drinks at Georgie’s Alibi. Wilton Manors has easily taken over from Miami Beach as the new South Florida gay mecca. There's even a fantastic new place called The Manor Complex, which houses a martini bar, a lounge, a restaurant, a cafe, a Latino dance room, and a 2-story nightclub. We had lots of fun that night.

    On the Sunday, I made my way north to Palm Beach County, where I stayed with the AKs. Half of the AKs is Library Director for the Delray Beach Public Library, a beautiful 47,000-square-foot building built 5 years ago in a Key West style with levered shuttered windows and pastel colors. The inside has an impressive loft ceiling on the second floor, a public meeting hall and a café, lifelong learning classes in a computer room, and an adorable children’s section with hand-painted scenes of Floridian nature scenes on the walls. It looks like a great library in which to work. I also went back with the other half of the AKs to visit the main library at Florida Atlantic University, where I previously worked for more than 7 years. After I left, they broke ground on an extension to the main building, and one of the best parts of this project has been the expansion of The Arthur & Mata Jaffe Center for Book Arts. Now incorporating space for lectures and workshops, this area has helped generate an incredible amount of interest in the Jaffe Collection of thousands of artists’ books and related works, many of which are 3D sculptures unto themselves. Jaffe curator John Cutrone and I co-wrote an article about the collection that was published in Art Documentation in 2004. It’s exciting to see how the collection has increased, not to mention the popularity of the numerous public programs and events held there. The rest of my visit to the library itself was fine. It was good to see so many people I had once worked for and with (and those who once worked for me!). But if ever I needed affirmation that I had made the right decision to move on, it was confirmed for me that day, simply because I realized how I personally had evolved into a different phase of my life and that my time there was now officially my past. We came together for a time, but even they have moved into their own future.

    The rest of my trip was spent in Pinellas County visiting family, but mostly celebrating the Padre's 79th birthday and helping take care of him with some of his health issues. I did get to see a few old friends (and I made one new friend…you know who you are!). I’ll be back there again in a couple of months, probably for a longer period of time, but for now I’m back home in Brooklyn and looking forward to my next adventure.