Thursday, April 17, 2014
Solomon's Arrest in Paris
Exactly 140 years ago in Paris, on Friday, April 18, 1874, the 33-year-old Anglo-Jewish artist Simeon Solomon was sentenced to 3 months in prison for "mutually indulging in obscene contact in public" with 17-year-old Henri Lefranc (aka Raphael-Maximillien Dumont), both having been arrested in a public urinal at the Place de la Bourse on March 4. One often doesn't think to commemorate an event such as this, particularly since it isn't as well-known as Solomon's previous arrest for the same crime in London the year beforehand. Both arrests attest to the secrecy and danger male lovers faced at a time when same-sex passion was a criminal act. Credit goes to historian William Peniston for first uncovering the documentation of this arrest, and my colleague Carolyn Conroy has expanded on Peniston's research. It's actually rather surprising that biographers and art history has chosen to forget about the Parisian arrest. His friend and collector Robbie Ross (himself later buried with Oscar Wilde) wrote about Solomon in his obituary that he: "used to boast that he had been in prison in every country in Europe; but besides London there is no evidence that he was arrested elsewhere than in Paris, where he was detained three months." Solomon's artistic productivity in 1874 was blunted by this time in prison; nevertheless, he produced that year this beautiful drawing you see above, Until the Day Break and the Shadows Flee Away, a quote from the Song of Solomon 2:17 (King James Version). The image you see here is a Frederick Hollyer platinum print photograph of the drawing from the collection of the Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery.
For more information:
Carolyn Conroy, "'He Hath Mingled with the Ungodly': The Life of Simeon Solomon after 1873 with a Survey of the Extant Work" (Ph.D. Diss., University of York, 2009).
William A. Peniston, Pederasts and Others: Urban Culture and Sexual Identity in Nineteenth-Century Paris (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2004).
Robert Ross, "A Note on Simeon Solomon," Westminster Gazette (August 24, 1905).