For the next three days, I’ll be spotlighting Solomon Solomon, the artist who was so nice they named him twice.
At my suggestion, his classic book on painting has just been republished by Dover Publications, and I was honored to write the introduction. Excerpts of that essay follows:
Solomon Joseph Solomon (1860-1927) was a Victorian painter of Biblical and mythological scenes.
Although he is not widely known today, in his time he was regarded as a leading artist and respected teacher at the Royal Academy. He was an important part of the artistic life of his generation and his works were “known to everyone who takes an interest in art.”
Today his two most famous paintings are the muscular and dramatic compositions “Samson and Delilah” (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and “Ajax and Cassandra” (Ballarat Art Gallery, Australia).
Solomon Solomon (not to be confused with a contemporaneous painter named Simeon Solomon) was born in London, the fourth son of a leather dealer. His mother was from a cultured family of Prague in Bohemia. Seeing that her son had taken an early interest in drawing, she encouraged him to pursue artwork. It was from her that he “inherited his artistic taste, as well as his spirit of joie de vivre.”
His father resisted his career aspirations at first, given that a Jewish artist in nineteenth century Britain faced considerable obstacles, both religious and social. Nevertheless, at the age of sixteen, he entered Heathersley’s Art School. A year later he moved on to the Royal Academy Schools, where his classmates were Stanhope Forbes, Henry La Thangue, and Arthur Hacker. There he fell under the influence of prominent Victorian artists, such as Sir John Everett Millais and Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema.
But the training at the Royal Academy was limited. According to an 1885 article in The Magazine of Art, the R.A. had “little or nothing to teach; its students, as soon as they have passed the curriculum it imposes on them then make haste to betake themselves to France to learn, not only how to paint and draw, but to forget as much as they can of the practice and theory acquired at its schools.”
Therefore he continued his studies on the continent in France at the École des Beaux-Arts under Alexandre Cabanel (1824-1889) and in Germany at the Munich Academy. Travel to Italy, Holland, Germany and Spain sharpened his appreciation for the working methods of the old masters. Returning to England, he first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881, debuting one year before another French-trained artist, John Singer Sargent. From 1887 to 1897, he lived on Holland Park Road, among a colony of artists known as the Holland Park circle, the most prominent of whom was Frederic Leighton, President of the Royal Academy.
Solomon became an Associate member of that body in 1896, then was elected as a full member in 1906, the second Jew to be so honored. In 1919 he replaced Frank Brangwyn as President of the Royal Society of British Artists. As part of his service in World War I, he became one of the pioneers of camouflage, publishing Strategic Camouflage in 1920. Right: "Laus Deo,"
Like many of his academically trained contemporaries after the turn of the century, Solomon came to realize that the market was evaporating for epic mythological scenes based on literary themes. Instead he focused more and more on portraiture. His sitters included royals such as King George V, Queen Mary, Prince Edward, the architect Sir Aston Webb, and prominent members of the Jewish community such as Israel Zangwill.
Tomorrow: More about the book and how it's organized.