Solomon Joseph Solomon R.A., P.R.B.A.
- Solomon Joseph Solomon R.A., P.R.B.A.
- oil on canvas
The London Borough of Ealing (given from the above in 1946 and sold by the Order of Ealing Council, Christie’s, December 16, 2009, lot 27, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale
Rome, International Fine Arts Exhibition, 1911, no. 325
Wembley, British Empire Exhibition, May 9 - October 31, 1925
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Works by Late Members, Fifty-First Winter Exhibition, 1928, no. 367 (as The Birth of Eve, lent by Mrs. Solomon. J. Solomon)
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Victorian Visions, May 20 - August 29, 2010, no. 34
London, Leighton House Museum, Victorian Visions, April 17 - September 25, 2012
London, Tate Britain, December 6, 2012 - April 7, 2015 (on extended loan)
Stuart M. Samuel, "The Royal Academy," Jewish Chronicle, May 8, 1908, p. 16
"Ephemera Critica," The Bystander, London, July 8, 1908, p. 377
"The Royal Academy," The Builder, May 14, 1908, p. 565
G. K. Chesterton, "The Royal Academy," Art Journal, 1908, p. 164
Olga Somech Phillips, Solomon J. Solomon: A Memoir of Peace and War, London, 1933, p. 224
Solomon J. Solomon, R.A., exh. cat., Ben Uri Art Gallery, London, 1990, pp. 15, 17, 19, 30, illustrated p. 12 and 19 (in a photograph of the artist's studio)
Irit Miller, Solomon Joseph Solomon: An Anglo-Jewish Artist, 1860-1927, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Haifa, Israel, 2004, p. 100-3
Born in 1860 to Joseph, a British businessman, and Helena Lichenstadt, who came from a cultured Viennese family, Solomon was raised in the Jewish faith. His life was full of music and art, and at an early age he showed an affinity for both. Solomon’s education was dynamic and broad; after early training at Heatherly's Art School (alongside fellow student John Lavery), by 1877 Solomon was accepted to the Royal Academy Schools where John Everett Millais (see lot 12) and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (see lot 13) were both teachers and examples of the success a career in the arts could bring. In 1878 Solomon travelled to Paris and its École des Beaux Arts where, in contrast to the Royal Academy’s reliance on plaster casts and antique sculpture for study, he drew from life models under the careful instruction of Alexandre Cabanel. Solomon also studied at the Academy in Munich, before traveling through Spain, Italy, and Germany, The Netherlands, and Morocco with his friend and fellow artist Arthur Hacker. Solomon returned to London, and while a founding member of the New English Art Club (along with John Abbott McNeill Whistler), he soon left the group in favor of the Royal Academy where, in the years preceding Eve’s execution, he exhibited so regularly that the space reserved for him became known as “Solomon’s Corner” (Irit Miller, “Hebraism and Hellenism in An Allegory— A Painting by Solomon Joseph Solomon, Ars Judaica," 2006, p. 105; Perry, p. 4-5).
By 1887, at the relatively young age of 27, Solomon’s career was so well established that he could move to a new studio at 18 Holland Park Road with Frederic, Lord Leighton (see lot 16), Val Prinsep and George Frederick Watts (see lot 11) as neighbors. While Leighton and Prinsep were both known for their imaginative visualizations of iconic women, Watts’ work probably had the greatest influence on Solomon’s conception of Eve. Watts had repeatedly turned to the story from Genesis for inspiration, which Solomon would have been familiar with as the artist's work was widely exhibited even after his death in 1904. The artist’s Creation of Eve (circa 1865- circa 1899, Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts), part of a cycle of the first couple’s story, presents the pair surrounded by a host of angels linking heaven and earth in a tall, vertical composition; his reimagined Symbolist composition, She shall be called woman (fig. 1, circa 1875-92, Tate Britain, London) focuses on Eve herself as an ethereal figure envisioned in spiritual ecstasy (Mark Bills and Barbara Bryant, G. F. Watts Victorian Visionary, Highlights from the Watts Gallery Collection, New Haven and London, 2008, pp. 163, 169; Richard Beresford, Victorian Visions, exh. cat., 2010, p. 122). Watts, along with Solomon and his contemporaries, rejected a didactic illustration of the Biblical creation of Eve described in Genesis 2:21-22 in which Eve is literally “taken out of man” and formed from Adam’s rib. Instead, they heightened iconographic traditions established from the Renaissance and sources such as Michelangelo’s designs for the Sistine Chapel (fig. 2, 1508-12), in which Eve is depicted fully formed, stepping out and away from Adam’s sleeping body ushered forth by God.
While acknowledging Solomon’s early training and contemporary influences, Eve’s composition references the artist’s early idea for An Allegory (1904, oil on canvas, Harris Museum and Gallery, Preston). A sketch for the painting shows Christ supported by Moses on one side and an angel on the other, a compositional motif similar to the realized painting and to Eve. Given the complexity and scale of many of his compositions, Solomon carefully considered multiple ideas and prepared numerous studies, some of which were photographed surrounding Eve in progress in the artist’s studio and offered for sale after his death (Beresford, p. 122, see preceding page). The angel’s wings were, as remembered by the artist’s daughter, based on studio props that, together with swirling clouds, became part of his visual vocabulary of the spiritual Sublime as seen in An Allegory and The Awakening (1891, Leeds Art Gallery) (Perry, p. 15).
The mystical magic of Eve is centered on her nude, floating body, showcasing Solomon’s brilliant Academic technique and charging the composition with erotic undertones. Eve is boldly on display as she is pulled aloft from the unconscious Adam, her own dawning consciousness suggested by half opened eyes cast in shadow as light spills over her body. She is pulled aloft by her angel attendants, as wisps of clouds frame and spill down her legs, across her feet. Such a sensuous pose echoes back to the artist’s French training; in particular the recumbent goddess of Cabanel’s La Naissance de Vénus (fig. 3, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) (Beresford p. 122). As a large scale Salon painting of a Classical subject, Cabanel’s Academic work legitimized the view of the female nude. Similarly, the Royal Academy was one of the few places where one could respectfully regard the nude female body, and Solomon was a master of the form (Perry, p. 15). His earlier compositions like Ajax and Cassandra (fig. 4, 1886, Art Gallery of Ballarat, Victoria), Samson (1887, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), and the Birth of Love (1896, current location unknown) had caused a stir for their Academic realism in depicting the human body (both male and female), and his deeply dramatic poses and placements earned him fame. As The Building News’ writer confirmed when appraising Eve's “Biblical” subject “of course, the human figures are nude” further explaining that “there are many studies of the nude this year, and of them this is undoubtedly the best” (“The Royal Academy,” p. 660). Ultimately, Solomon’s Eve is both a beautifully realized Academic nude and a sensual vision of female beauty and, in this duality, falls between the Victorian and early twentieth century: She is the idealized first woman, partner of man, and mother of mankind as well as a cautionary tale of the corrupting power of temptation and seduction.
Impressing audiences nearly a century ago, Eve is no less impactful today, entrancing a modern audience on its recent exhibitions and extended loan to London’s Tate Britain.