O n 13 December 2018, Sotheby’s will offer a number of major works by Simeon Solomon in the Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist sale. The works are part of Art/Identity/Migration: Property from Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, sold to fund acquisitions; the Ben Uri Research Unit, dedicated to the study of the immigrant contribution to British visual arts since 1900; and the expansion of the Ben Uri Arts and Dementia Institute.
Born in London into a wealthy Orthodox Jewish family, Simeon Solomon’s prodigious artistic talents were noticed at a young age. Encouraged by his elder siblings Abraham and Rebecca Solomon (already established artists themselves), Simeon’s debut at the Royal Academy was only when he was fifteen years old with a work entitled Isaac Offered.
“There are few more melancholy figures in the history of genius than that of this vivid young Jew with his poetical soul and his distorted mentality, a prey to forces against which he was powerless to battle.”
As a young man in the 1860s he was profoundly inspired by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones who once exclaimed that Solomon was ‘the greatest artist of us all; we are mere schoolboys compared with you.’ (ibid Reynolds, p. 8). The well-documented turning point in Solomon’s life and career came in February 1873 when he was trialled and convicted for an act of indecency.
The incident destroyed his reputation and led to a descent into alcoholism, homelessness and eventually a life in a London workhouse. His drawings from the last thirty years of his life exhibit Solomon’s inner turmoil and psychological reflection combined with a powerful mystical and sensuous beauty.
This period in Solomon’s career which produced innovative, skilfully executed and intensely emotional works was never fully appreciated during his lifetime, but his posthumous reputation regained momentum and today Solomon is regarded as one of the leading members of the Aesthetic movement.