Simeon Solomon: A Pre-Raphaelite Jewish Queer Artist in London.

Contribute by dr. Sarah Palermo, Art historian.

Simeon Solomon (London 9 October 1840 – 14 August 1905) is one of the most interesting Pre-Raphaelite artists of Victorian era. His early works was closely related to his Jewish faith, scenes from the Old Testament His images of worship and devotion came under the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti that marked an important change in his work.

His career and life sadly radically change on the 11th of February 1883 when he was arrested in a public toilet in London caught in a sexual act with another man. The scandal engulfed Simeon Solomon after his arrest, his friends quickly abandoned him and some collectors even destroyed pieces, disgusted at him.  

He started to paint more scenes from literature and images of women painted in classical settings including the watercolors in the collection of the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool. Solomon’s paintings of contemporary religious life is a dominant theme. Among his studies, he represented men often Clergyman and Rabbis in church interiors. A great example of this is the painting the Mystery of Faith in the Lady Lever Art Gallery collection. We can read this work as one example of his paintings, real studies of male beauty. Step by step Solomon fully integrated himself in the artistic community and fully developed the free and most rooted Classical and Hellenistic theme. Against the tide of moralism repressive and religious of the victorian era painted the sapphic love with his masterpieces: “The Vesta Temple” 1862, “The Venus Temple” 1863, and especially his masterpiece “Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene”.

At the end of his life Solomon lived on the fringes of society, on the street and working as a pavement artist who depended on alcohol and spent periods in the asylums where he ultimately died. He refused to undergo treatment and didn’t apologize for his behavior trying to reintegrate himself into Society. 

Solomon has been largely overlooked. He is often been excluded from important exhibitions and art history of his period. From the 1960s onwards, he is more included in Queer British Art shows at Tate and Galleries that are doing more to make Solomon credible are visible. 

His ill-fated career is an example of indirect cultural censorship for moral and religious issues.

Solomon, Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864.