Sad and Brilliant Life of Simeon Solomon

Simeon SolomonOn this day in 1840, the great British artist Simeon Solomon was born. His father was a prominent manufacturer in London and his mother was an artist. This probably explains why his older brother Abraham and older sister Rebecca were also painters — both exceptionally gifted.

Simeon Solomon was the most interesting of the children. His work is highly symbolic, which is remarkable given that it came out of Victorian England. Looking at his work, it is easy to mistake it for work done well into the twentieth century. I think of him as kind of a combination of Gustav Klimt and Edvard Munch and especially Fernand Khnopff. But there’s more. It is hard not to see Salvador Dalí in his 1884 chalk on paper, Head of Medusa:

Head of Medusa

But Solomon is better known for work like his 1870 The Sleepers, and the One That Watcheth. I don’t know quite what to make of it, which is generally what I feel about his work and why I think it is so wonderful:

The Sleepers, and the One That Watcheth

One thing that comes across rather clearly in this painting is Solomon’s homosexuality. For this “crime” he was twice jailed. And he seems to have spent the last twenty years of his life in a workhouse. He continued to work, however. In fact, he produced great work, but much more pencil and pastel — much less watercolor, which seems to have been his preferred medium. Still, it is a sad way to treat a man who gave so much to the world.

Happy birthday Simeon Solomon!

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