18 December 2008

Rebecca Solomon, London artist

In Victorian Paintings blog, Hermes gave many fine examples of paintings from the Solomon family of artists. But what scholarly art histories have been written about this amazing Jewish London family?

Michael and Kate Solomon had 8 babies between 1824-40, which app­ar­ently did not send the family into poverty. They were comfortable, fashionable and part of mainstream London culture .

The Solomons were naturally influenced by Victorian tastes in general and by the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic more specifically. See the Pre Raphaelite Art blog for two of Simeon's dreamy paintings "The Sleepers and the One Who Watcheth"  and  "A Prelude by Bach". The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood didn’t last for many years but it inspired art throughout the second half of the 19th century.

Of the 8 Solomon children, three of them became professional artists: Abraham b1824, Rebecca b1832 and Simeon b1840. Simeon was clearl­y talented AND was fortunate enough to meet and become quite close to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. They introduced Simeon to William Holman-Hunt, Algernon Charles Swinburne and other members of the intellectual elite.

But Simeon’s impressive rise and disastrous fall has been very well documented. I am much more interested in Abraham and Rebecca.

The Parting, by Abraham Solomon

Abraham Solomon learned painting in a very decent school of art and went on to admitted to the Royal Academy. Second Class, The Parting 1854 was a very tragic image of a young lad who was about to emigrate to Australia, being farewelled by his mother and sister who feared they would never see him again. Maudlin perhaps, but every mother in Britain would have felt terrible, looking at Solomon’s scene.

The Acquittal 1857, one of a series of court-related images, showed an exhausted family who had waited in a court house all day, finally to hear their relative had been found not guilty of the charge. The relief, although overstated, was heartfelt. Art Blog By Bob makes the point that court cases and prisons remained a harsh reality for working class Victorians as the gap between the haves and the have-nots widened to a chasm. For the upper classes in England, Graphic Content like Abraham painted was largely invisible.
The Acquittal, by Abraham Solomon

Abraham taught art to his sister Rebecca, and it amazes me still that she was able to exhibit her paintings at the Royal Academy between 1851-75. She clearly had a long and successful career, yet I can find so little of her life and art.

The Governess, by Rebecca Solomon

The Governess 1854 showed a gent­eel young lady, attractive but with no family money, having no career alternatives other than being a governess to someone else’s children. The mistress and master of the house gaze with admiration into each other’s eyes; the governess can only dream of what might have been, had she had a family of her own. The Love Letter 1861 was more am­big­uous, but it certainly suggested that Rebecca was an artist of her (high Victorian) time.

Love Letter, by Rebecca Solomon

What is so irritating is that Rebecca has almost been written out of art history. Abraham died very young and Simeon was no longer accepted in fashionable circles because of indecent exposure and sodomy in a public place. But Rebecca’s career should have been well documented. While not a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood herself, she was an assistant in the studio of John Everett Millais for a time and she worked for Edward Burne-Jones as a model. She was not “unconnected” in the art world.

Rebecca herself died at a relatively young age. She was run over by a coach in 1886, aged 54.
Solomons: A Family of Painters, Geffrye Museum, London, 1985 is a very useful book, but tricky to locate.


Hels said...

To Hermes at "Victorian Paintings":

Your Abraham Solomon painting, "Not Guilty", is super. When I was discussing the Solomon siblings, I considered putting in its pair, "Waiting for the Verdict". Later I found a very interesting discussion (by lawyers, not art historians) in the "Not PC" blog. Have a look at http://pc.blogspot.com/2008/08/for-verdict-abraham-solomon.html

January 22, 2009 2:00 AM

Hermes said...

Thank you, I try to feature the Solomon's when I can as I don't think they are as well known as their talent deserves. Thanks for the links.
January 22, 2009