signed with monogram and dated 1890 l.l.; inscribed, signed and dated on the backing paper: "NIGHT" by/ Simeon Solomon./ 1890
Sotheby's, 25 November 2004, lot 322;
Night depicts an androgynous head representing the Greek god Hypnos, bedecked with blood-red poppies the flowers of sleep. The poppy is a floral symbol which appears throughout Symbolist art both in Britain and further afield; we find it in the work of the Belgian Fernand Knopff whose work closely parallels that of Solomon and in the paintings of Burne-Jones and Rossetti. The connection between opium (the drug of the bohemian decadents) and such images of languid dreaming figures is clear, although by the time Solomon painted Night he was far removed from the life of decadence which the 'lotus eaters' of Bohemia enjoyed. It is tragic to imagine that the gentle peace of sleep, with its dreams of beauty and atonement, may have been one of Solomon's few comforts during these dark years of his life. A very similar watercolour to the present painting (although reversed) is in the collection of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, whilst a double head study of 1888 entitled Night and Sleep containing similar elements and the same Pre-Raphaelite 'Rossettian' profile, is at Birmingham City Art Gallery. The pinnacle of Solomon's preoccupation with the theme of sleep was his beautiful prose poem A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep which begins 'Upon the waning of the night, at that time when the stars are pale, and when dreams wrap us about more closely, when a brighter radiance is shed upon our spirits, three sayings of the wise King came unto me. These are they: - I sleep, but my heart waketh; also, Many waters cannot quench love; and again, Until the day break, and the shadows flee away; and I fell musing and thinking much upon them.' (Simeon Solomon, A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep, 1871, p. B).
'Will the day never dawn?
The dim stars weep
Great tears of silver on the pall of night;
And the sad moon, for weariness grown white,
Crawls like a mourner up the Eastern steep.
I strain my eyes for morning, while these steep;
Dreaming of women, this one with the lips
Half-parted, haply – that in the eclipse
Of a child-slumber, dreamless, folded deep,
Eyes seal'd as though a hand of sleep stew'd flowers
Upon their lids, and mouth a fresh-dew's rose
Wet with the kisses of the night. The hours
Are very heavy on my soul, that knows
No rest: for pinions of the unseen powers
Winnow the wind in every breath that blows' (John Payne, Sleepers and the One that Watches)
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