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Remembering Simeon Solomon

by Abi Stacey, Marketing, Communications and PR Manager

As LGBT History Month draws to a close we remember Pre-Raphaelite artist Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) whose career was cut tragically short when he was arrested for homosexual acts.

Simeon Solomon was born in 1840 to a prominent Jewish family and by 1858 his work was exhibited at the Royal Academy. He was part of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s circle and a friend of Edward Burne-Jones. His paintings and sketches depicted literary, classical and Biblical scenes, as well as Jewish life and rituals, such as this Passover Seder. 

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A Passover Seder depicted by Simeon Solomon, originally published in “Once a Week” (1862)

In 1873 Solomon was arrested in a public urinal and charged with attempting to commit sodomy, for which he was fined £100 following a six week detention. He was arrested again the following year in Paris and sentenced to three months in prison. 

Though he continued painting following his prosecutions, Solomon’s mainstream career never recovered.

Over the following decades Solomon suffered from alcoholism and periods of extreme poverty, spending much time in the St. Giles Workhouse in one of London’s poorest areas.

He was supported through this time by his friends and family, including photographer Frederick Hollyer, who had worked with many of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and continued to produce reproductions of Solomon’s art.

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Photographic print by Frederick Hollyer of a Simeon Solomon drawing illustrating a scene from the Book of Ruth (1878)

These prints found their way to Oxford’s student halls where a new generation of young men, including Oscar Wilde, were introduced to Solomon’s often homoerotic imagery and began collecting his work. In his prison letter to Lord Alfred Douglas (De Profundis) Oscar Wilde wrote of his bankruptcy and his sadness at having to sell many of his “charming” things, including his Simeon Solomon paintings. 

Solomon died from complications brought on by alcoholism at St. Giles Workhouse on 14 August 1905 and was buried at the Jewish Cemetery in Willesden.

He left behind a great legacy and a substantial body of work, with his art now hanging in the walls of some of the greatest art galleries, including the V&A and the Tate.

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