A study for the large (84 x 48 in.) painting that Solomon exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1900, no. 255. The finished picture is illustrated in Royal Academy Pictures, 1900, pl. 93, and a watercolour composition study exists in the cabinet of works of the St John's Wood Art Club, lot 124 (see fig. 1).
The Royal Academy picture depicts a knight standing in a blacksmith's forge, his horse behind him, being armed for battle. The Victorians' tendency to use history as a mirror for their own preoccupations was often thrown into higher relief by current events, and never was this more the case than in 1900. The Boer War was raging, and the Royal Academy was full of its reflections. Blair Leighton's God Speed, sold at Christie's London, 14 June 2000, lot 16, £707,750, in which a lady binds an embroidered sleeve to the arm of a departing knight is another picture which projected the spirit of the age in a medieval idiom, but more contemporary examples included John Bacon's Ordered South (young officer in khaki takes leave of wife and child), G.D. Leslie's In Time of War (young widow mourns in poignantly beautiful garden) and David Farquharson's War News (fisherfolk reading a newspaper).
The picture was a typical example from Solomon, who made a reputation from such large, dramatic set pieces. He started exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1881, and showed works so regularly thereafter that a section of the rooms became known as 'Solomon's Corner'. Contemporary wags used to refer to 'Solomon RA'd in all his glory'. Although he studied at Heatherley's Art School, with John Lavery, and at the Royal Academy Schools (in 1877 when Leighton was President, and Millais and Alma-Tadema were at the height of their fame), the most profound influence on his art came from his study at the Ecôle des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and the nine months spent in the studio of Cabanel. Reviewing Samson, now in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and perhaps the artist's best known work, the art critic of the Athenaeum, 28 May 1998, p. 708, wrote: 'Mr Solomon, ... bids boldly for a highly [sic] place as a nineteenth century Rubens by a Samson in the old fashioned magnificent style'. The chivalric and Rubensian mode was continued in St. George, his Diploma work, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1906, no. 205, a sketch for which was sold at Christie's London, 24 November 1998, lot 158.
Solomon, (who was always refered to by his sonorous full name, Solomon J. Solomon, to distinguish him from his disgraced namesake, Simeon, (see lots 131 and 132), achieved various distinctions, and was only the second Jew to be elected RA in the history of the Academy. (The first, Solomon Hart, was elected in 1840). From modest begninnings he swiftly achieved material reward and by 1887 was established at 18 Holland Park Road as a neighbour of Watts, Prinsep and Leighton. Following his marriage, he moved to that other artistic colony of nineteenth-century London, St. John's Wood, and there established a lucrative portrait practice. He ended his career as President of the Society of British Artists in 1919.