Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
Property from a Private European Collection (Lots 1-27, 38-41, 43-46, 104-105 and 119-120)Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) Lots 1-26'… that singular young genius ... an artist of endless invention and fantasy…' (William Michael Rosssetti, writing in 1858) Viewing a comprehensive collection of works on paper by Simeon Solomon is as rare as it is welcome. The group of drawings presented here show variations upon some of the artist’s most typical subjects. A bishop of the Eastern Church (fig. 1, lot 2), Orpheus, seen in profile, (fig. 2, lot 21), a female head representing Night (fig. 3, lot 5): all are familiar motifs to those acquainted with the artist. But then, we have a surprise: a Saint Francis subject that betrays the artist’s interests in early Florentine painting, as well as his dalliance with Catholicism (fig. 4, lot 12). Another surprise: a watercolour showing a bearded magus staring into space. The Seer (fig. 5, lot 13) records the artist’s fascination with the visionary and the sense of communion with the unseen. There are always revelations to be found in looking at Solomon’s works. Simeon Solomon was born into a successful, assimilated Jewish family in the East End of London. Two of his siblings – Abraham (1823-62) and Rebecca (1832-86) – were professional artists of some note. His prodigious fame in the 1860s was followed by public disgrace, poverty and obscurity. His fall from favour in 1873 was caused by his prosecution for a lewd act in a public convenience; it ended his career. Yet if we remembered Solomon chiefly for his role in a minor Victorian scandal we would be doing a considerable disservice to his originality and skill as an artist. His seemingly endless inventiveness was explored at its best through his core activity, drawing. Although at the start of his career his reputation as a painter was advanced through the exhibiting of oil paintings at the Royal Academy exhibitions between 1860 and 1872, it was in works on paper that his most original, intense, and provocative ideas were presented. The watercolourist George Price Boyce (1826-97) described his drawings as 'remarkable designs' when he saw them at a Pre-Raphaelite gathering in 1857 (V. Surtees (ed.), The Diaries of George Price Boyce, Norwich, 1980, p. 17 (entry dated 7 April 1857)). Solomon was only 16 years old at the time and the party was at his brother’s studio. In the following year Boyce noted in his diary that he was “much interested with a book of sketches by young Simeon” (Ibid., p. 22 (entry dated 19 February 1858)). By the following year, William Michael Rosssetti would describe Solomon in The Spectator, as 'that singular young genius ... an artist of endless invention and fantasy, from whose original and teeming brain all who have had an opportunity of in any way estimating its resources hope great things indeed'. (W.M. Rossetti, The Spectator, 6 November 1858, p. 1172). At the time of W.M. Rossetti’s notice Solomon had been studying at the Royal Academy Schools for over a year. He was a part of a Sketching-Club there along with Marcus Stone (1840-1921) and Henry Holiday (1839-1927) (see H. Holiday, Reminiscences of my Life, London, 1914, p. 40). This was perhaps encouraged by the activities of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood whose members had formed the Cyclographic Club when they were students. Subjects derived from literary sources were set by members, encouraging the making of original compositions that were circulated to the others for criticism. The works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti were a powerful influence upon Solomon at this early stage; we can see their force clearly in the pen and ink drawing, Love (fig. 6, lot 1), in its intense atmosphere and archaic details. Boyce recorded a visit to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the Hogarth Club in January 1859 at which he and Solomon viewed Rossetti’s 'beautiful solemn purple drawing of Mary in the house of John' (The reference is to Mary in the House of Saint John, 1859, now in the Tate). He recalled Solomon’s thoughts on 'the impression of intense, thoughtful repose' at the time. Thereafter, a subtle representation of internality became a feature of the younger artist’s work too, beginning with The Mother of Moses (exhibited R.A., 1860). Often he outdid even Rossetti in describing a self-absorption and sadness in the chief figures of his compositions. During this extremely busy period the artist still found space for other expressions of his talent for drawing - the sensitively modelled features of Clara, 1861 (fig. 7, lot 10), is a good example. In a watercolour exploring an episode in the story of Ruth, 1862 (fig. 8, lot 3), we find that Solomon adds a deep imaginative connection with his source material and a knowledge of antiquarianism mixed - with a liberal dash of fanciful historical conjecture - to sensitive draughtsmanship. For a while Solomon could number commercial illustration to his many gifts, and this drawing shows us why he was in such demand. In 1862 he was commissioned by the Dalziel Brothers to join the band of artists working on a projected illustrated Bible only published in a much-reduced form in 1881. A group of illustrations for the periodical The Leisure Hour in 1866 show his vivid engagement with Jewish traditions, enmeshed with his own childhood experiences of his culture, its domestic traditions and religious ceremonies (fig. 9). A contribution to the now-famous painted cabinet designed by William Burges, found his designs included alongside those by Burne-Jones and Albert Moore, among others. In addition, stained glass designs completed for All Saints, Middleton Cheney, in 1865 confirm his place in early Arts and Crafts history. Indeed, Solomon had several interests and many professional contacts throughout the 1860s. He was one of the artists forming the organising committee for the forward-looking Dudley Gallery which was to make such an impression upon the artistic life of London as the key venue for the display of the ‘new painting’ of the 1860s. One of Solomon’s most forward-looking and original ideas was, in 1878, to issue his drawings in photographic form in a portfolio. These designs, photographed by Frederick Hollyer (1838-1933), included some alternative compositions of works already exhibited, while others, such as In the Summer Twilight, were presented in drawn form before being shown at the Dudley. (A tantalizingly fragmented version of this subject - intensified into one sad female profile - is lot 11 in the present group). The critic and gallery owner Robert Ross (1869-1918) noted the 'illicit sentiment' of the works recorded in Hollyer’s photographs when they graced the walls of the rooms of some 'very cultured undergraduates' at Oxford in the latter decades of the century. When relatives visited, he recalled, 'Love dying from the breath of Lust, Antinous, and drawings with titles from the Latin Vulgate, all by Simeon Solomon, were taken down for the occasion.' (Unsigned review, ‘Fine Art: Simeon Solomon’, The Academy, 23 December 1905, pp. 1336-7). The portfolio of photographs – the first of several collaborations with Hollyer - was the first indication of a change towards allegorical subjects, initially inspired by the wood engravings illustrating the esoteric Renaissance fantasy Hypnerotomachia Polyphili, 1499. It was probably the model, too, for his own allegory of love and its various states, the prose-poem A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep, published in 1871. As the poet and historian John Addington Symonds (1840-93) described Solomon’s book: 'The mystery of Love is here displayed as in a pageant to the dreaming spirit of the poet by his soul conceived as an external and superior power'. (J.A. Symonds, ‘General Literature’, The Academy, 1 April 1871, pp. 189-190). This pageant was, in essence, a parade of the artist’s pictures of various stages of desire from the abject to the transfigured. Around this time, Solomon shared with Edward Burne-Jones an enthusiasm for the qualities of beauty and strangeness found in the drawings of Mantegna, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Botticelli. These graphic influences helped dissipate the medievalism of Pre-Raphaelitism and introduced a more graceful, classically-influenced style that, in its very delicacy, lent a corrupt and decadent quality to their work. A strong tendency to eclecticism was evident in these new themes. There are some indications of their origins in a critical essay by the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) who, on a visit to Florence, found new inspiration in the overlooked drawings he saw in the Uffizi: 'Fair strange faces of women full of dim doubt and faint scorn; touched by the shadow of an obscure fate; eager and weary as it seems at once, pale and fervent with patience or passion; allure and perplex the eyes and thoughts of men. There is a study here of Youth and Age meeting; it may be, of a young man coming suddenly upon the ghostly figure of himself as he will one day be; the brilliant life in his face is struck into sudden pallor and silence, the clear eyes startled, the happy lips confused.' (A.C. Swinburne, ‘Old Masters at Florence’, Essays and Studies, London, 1875, p. 320. (The essay was first published in The Fortnightly Review in July 1868)). It is hard to ignore the parallels with Solomon’s compositions that consist of a single head, such as his depiction of Night (fig. 3, lot 5). Even more suggestive were drawings of two heads, confronting each other from either side of the page, their subjects ranging from the Annunciation (Ecce Ancilla Domini, fig. 10, lot 7) to Mercury and Proserpine (fig. 11, lot 19). In an obscure Christian subject, from 1892, we find Jesus staring steadily at a young man (fig. 12, lot 18). In all of them the space between the figures is a suggestive one, filled with imagined dialogue, the viewer’s own readings, sorrows and desires. Solomon’s fascination with Renaissance art was anticipated by his favourite poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), as well as by Swinburne; both had written on a celebrated painting of Medusa, then attributed to Leonardo, which hung in the Uffizi throughout the 19th Century. Solomon was also drawn to Rossetti’s poem Aspecta Medusa the title of which he inscribed in a cartouche on one of his drawings of the subject (fig. 13, lot 20). In a letter to Robert Ross, the artist recorded that he was preparing a drawing of Perseus with the head of Medusa, based on Rossetti, for a patron, the eccentric Estonian aristocrat and poet Count Stenbock (1860-95). (see J. Adlard Stenbock, Yeats & the Nineties, London, 1969, p. 51). The Medusa image allows for an ambiguity – are we Perseus in control of the head or only another of Medusa’s victims transfixed by her gaze at the precise moment we are turned to stone? On the other hand, there are versions – such as The Tormented Conscience (sold in these Rooms, 25 March 2004, lot 123, fig. 14) - in which the Medusa is clearly not the Gorgon, a terrifying external other, but an internal self, suffering, sinful, and full of remorse. The critic Marion Spielmann raised a rhetorical question about Solomon’s work when it was shown at the Jewish Art and Antiquities exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1906: 'When did Burne-Jones surpass the beauty of the figure, exquisite in design and perfect in balance, called Memoria (995) … or realise more finely the poetic tragic horror of the Medusa’s Head (968)?' (M.H. Spielmann ‘The Whitechapel Exhibition: The Paintings 1: Looking Backward’, The Jewish World, 30th November 1906, p. 626). The Gorgon motif became a signature of sorts and the Art Journal, reviewing the artist’s life in 1906 vividly employed a mythic image to sum him up: 'The creative spirit within him was snared into all kinds of strange labyrinths; his incorruptible energy suffered heavy bondage; but from the darkness, and all the agony of that darkness, the word of beauty issues, sometimes startlingly clear.' (Unsigned review, Art Journal, London, 1906, p. 311. The article reproduces a variant design for the Medusa subject, The Unappeased Desire, 1887, on p. 312). After his fall in 1873, and during his period of exclusion and destitution, perhaps because of the impoverished materials available to him and the consequent reduced scale of his drawings, Solomon’s work almost exclusively depicts the face and head. Certainly this concentration becomes an aesthetic choice - as it did for the French Symbolist artist Odilon Redon (1840-1916). Important drawings by Redon, such as The Golden Cell, 1892, now in the British Museum, were already in England in the collection of A.E. Tebb (c.1864-1943), the doctor who attended several families in the wider Pre-Raphaelite circle. Solomon could have seen them at this time. In the work of both artists the heads provide a focus for readings of internal states and feelings, for meditation, thought and dream. Thus, the viewer meets the face head-on, riddling it or being riddled by it, led into a relationship with it. Solomon’s immediate influence upon a younger generation was somewhat subversive. We see it chiefly through the potential suggestiveness of his imagery, on new critical understandings, on modern Symbolist poetry rather than on contemporary painting.We feel his influence on the Yeats circle, on members of the Rhymers’ Club such as Lionel Johnson, on Oscar Wilde, and on Arthur Symons, among others. In 1891, the poet John Gray (1866-1934) wrote to the French critic Félix Fénéon (1861-1944) about a proposed visit to London: ‘...we shall seek out drawings by a fellow named Simeon Solomon, a pre-Raphaelite, but also something else - somewhat like Verlaine, if what they say is true. People no longer speak of him, except in whispers, but he was one of the great artists of that School (sometimes).’ (quoted in J. McCormack, John Gray: Poet, Dandy, and Priest, Hanover, N.H., 1991, p. 28). From those whispered references of more than a century ago, we find him not only spoken of again but celebrated, too. His full reappraisal is still in progress – the Love Revealed exhibition and catalogue, 2005, stimulated a new interest in his art and life. More recently, his placing in the first room of the Tate’s Queer Art in Britain display, 2017, acknowledged the originality and experimentation of his work and its significance for the history of British art. This collection of Solomon’s drawings and watercolours – probably the most extensive in private hands – presents us with a timely opportunity to view some of his rarest and most haunting images. Colin Cruise
Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)


Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
inscribed 'Love' (upper centre, in the margin), dated '21/4/58' (lower left, in the margin) and numbered '9' (lower right, in the margin)
pencil, pen and brown ink and brown wash on paper
10 5/8 x 8 3/8 in. (27 x 21.3 cm.)
Alfred de Pass (L.108a), by whom given to
Cornwall County Museum (L.2014e)
with Maas Gallery, London.
Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Love Revealed: Simeon Solomon and the Pre-Raphaelites, 2005, no. 14.

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Lot Essay

This early drawing, executed when the artist was eighteen, clearly shows Rossetti's influence in both its medieval subject matter and in the use of fine line. Solomon had met the older artist in 1857, almost ten years after the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Through Rossetti he came to know the rest of the Brotherhood and their work, and the angular pose of the male figure here owes much to Holman Hunt. This drawing appears to be part of a series of drawings of medieval subjects from this date.

The earliest recorded owner of this drawing, Sir Alfred de Pass, owned several works by Solomon.  He was married to one of the artist's cousins, Ethel Salaman (1869-1910).  He probably acquired works directly from Solomon himself or from other family members. 

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