Thursday, November 22, 2012

Rediscovered Art by the Solomons

It's been a while since I last blogged about the work my friend/colleague Carolyn Conroy and I have done on the gay Anglo-Jewish artist Simeon Solomon and our Simeon Solomon Research Archive. She has continued to provide updates to it and add more images, having secured permissions from some museums to add works from their collections. This has helped make the site grow tremendously and improve greatly in its usefulness to researchers. Two recent additions to the site, however, are worth further promotion. The first relates to the discovery of a heretofore unknown portrait of the Duke of Wellington from 1844 by Abraham Solomon, Simeon's elder brother. The portrait was made from a daguerreotype and then used to make engravings. You can see images and read more about it by visiting the SSRA page about the discovery. Our second addition to the site relates to the picture you see here, A Young Teacher, 1861, by Simeon's sister Rebecca Solomon. Although this painting was published as a black-and-white image in a 1988 article in Burlington Magazine, this is the first time it ever has been seen in color, and it's a beautiful work of art. We are very appreciative to the owner for providing us with a digital image of the painting from his collection and allowing us to put it on the SSRA. The painting shows an Indian ayah, or children's nurse, who watches the family baby while being instructed rather precociously by the young girl who is also in her charge. Although the subject may seem like Victorian sentimental kitsch, the picture says much about race relations through the presence of Indian servants in Victorian middle class homes. It's important to remember that just a few years before Rebecca painted this, the Sepoy uprising led to the slaughter of numerous British citizens and Indians, and subsequently the official absorption of India into the British Empire (about which I've blogged regarding a painting by Edward Armitage). Thus, although one might find it sweet that the little girl is teaching her ayah, in fact the painting suggests the political agenda of imperialism: the British are superior to the Indian race, and therefore they have the right and moral obligation to educate and rule over them. For more about Rebecca Solomon, you can read my biographical essay about her.

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