Listed as untraced in the Geffrye Museum's retrospective of the Solomon family's work, this picture, according to the catalogue, 'was declared by critical consensus to be her chef d'oeuvre, and which later commentators cite as her single notable piece of work. While the general appreciation the painting received can be guaged by The Critic's opening remark that 'Miss Rebecca Solomon's scene from Charles Reade's novel ... has received much praise; and deservedly ...' it was the Art Journal's reviewer (op. cit.) who was most forthright in his tribute:
'This is really a picture of great power, and in execution so firm and masculine that it would scarcely be pronounced the work of a lady ... It is gratifying, encouraging, and full of hope, to find a picture so admirably painted by a lady; it is, moreover, the offspring of thought and intelligence, as well as study and labour ... She adds another name to the many who receive honour as great women of the age'.
Charles Reade (1814-1884) was born at Ipsden in Oxfordshire. He was a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, entered Lincoln's Inn, and began his literary career as a dramatist, his most successful play, written jointly with Tom Taylor, being 'Masks and Faces' which was performed at the Haymarket in 1852. This he turned into a novel with the title 'Peg Woffington', which was published in 1853.
The novel deals with an episode in the life of the famous Irish actress, Margaret Woffington, who makes a conquest of a wealthy gentleman, Ernest Vane, not knowing him to be recently married. Margaret cuts out the face from a portrait of herself by a poor scene-painter and substitutes her own, to fool a party of critics who have come to abuse the portrait. She subsequently plays the same trick on Mabel Vane, with the result that she hears the young wife's touching prayer, that the actress shall not steal her husband's heart. Peg is moved by the prayer and a tear on her face reveals her charade. She effects the reconciliation of the young couple, and the story ends with her retirement to a life of piety and good deeds.
We are grateful to Pam Solomon for her help in the preparation of this catalogue entry.