Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Solomon's Shame-Free Art

The September/October issue of The Gay and Lesbian Review features an article co-authored by me and my friend/colleague Carolyn Conroy entitled "Simeon Solomon's Shame-Free Art."  I wrote the first part, encompassing his early life and career from 1840-1873, while Carolyn wrote the second half covering his arrest for attempted sodomy, and subsequent life and career until his death in 1905.  If you have a subscription to the Review, you can read the article online; otherwise, check your local library or bookstore, or order a copy online.  As bklynbiblio readers know, I've been working on the art of this Jewish Victorian painter since the 1990s and have published a few articles about him, including most recently an account of his first trip to Italy in 1866.  Carolyn and I also manage the Simeon Solomon Research Archive

The work you see here is one of my favorite paintings by him: A Deacon, 1863 (image: Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery).  Solomon was fascinated by the mysticism of religion, and here he captures a beautiful youth entranced by the ritual of the Mass.  One can read pictures like these as his exploration of same-sex desire as the (implied male) viewer gazes at the youth and shares in the rapture that the youth himself feels about God and/or the priest before him.  The myrtle in the background is a recurring motif in his pictures and represents love in both its carnal and spiritual forms, so the picture can be seen as a paean to the sacred and sexual.  Solomon arguably was one of the most innovative painters of his day.  His arrest for homosexual crimes may have ended his public career, but as Carolyn and I show in our article it did not temper his interest in pursuing a life and art that celebrated alternative love and identity.

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