Saturday, May 25, 2013

Solomon's "Equipped"--A study or a fragment?

In the studio sale after his death, a painting by Solomon Solomon (1860-1927) called "A Page Buckling on Armour" came up for sale. It sold again at auction in 2003 with the new title, "Study for Equipped." 

The painting shows a young man attaching armor to the leg of a knight. Solomon was a French-trained Royal Academician known for his portraits and his mythological scenes, and this painting shows his characteristic attention to classical craftsmanship, with fine foreshortening of the face, and sensitive drawing in the hands.

Christies noted that the 36 x 24 inch painting was a study for the large (84 x 48 in.) painting called "Equipped" that Solomon exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1900.

At the same auction in 2003, a small watercolor study was also sold, evidently a preliminary sketch showing the whole composition. The page can be seen in context preparing the knight for battle, with his white horse in the shadows behind him. 
I was curious what the finished picture looked like, and found it in the book of the Royal Academy Pictures, 1900, plate 93 (left, below).

When you see the picture of the page next to the finished painting, it becomes clear that it's not a study at all, but a fragment, hacked out of the larger painting, which must now be lost. Presumably the surgery could have been conducted by the artist himself, or else it could have been done by someone else immediately following his death, but before the studio auction in 1928.

EDIT: I have added a file (below) with the page image overlaid semitransparently so you can see how the two images fit together. Note that the measurements (36 x 24 out of 84 x 48) line up too. I would guess Solomon or someone had a 36 x 24 frame to fill. A few people noticed some very slight differences, such as the position of the cape and the edge of the page's cap (light against the armor in one, and dark against the armor in another). I would suspect that this was the work of the artist touching up the fragment. But I suppose we'll never know for sure.



Book: "The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing," by Solomon SolomonIntroduction by James Gurney
Order Solomon's book "The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing" signed by James Gurney 
Book: Victorian Painting by Christopher Wood
Download the Royal Academy catalog of 1900
Solomon Solomon on Wikipedia

19 comments:

Linda Crank said...

I adore this painting. What wonderful work Solomon J. Solomon did...and what a shame that one way or the other it was sliced out of the original - I hope he's the one who decided to do that. Thanks for your research on this...so interesting!

Tom Hart said...

The first thing that crossed my mind when seeing the side-by-side comparison, is how much stronger the page section is compared to the rest of the painting. It's hard to tell from the old b/w reproduction, but the upper body and head of the night look weak (relatively speaking, of course!). I like the theory that Solomon himself might have edited down the painting to this one section. Lacking documentation, we'll never know. But anyway it's a beautiful painting.

Joel Fletcher said...

Most likely Solomon did this himself because he was unsatisfied with part of the painting. Weird that you brought up this subject, I actually did this to one of my old paintings a couple days ago. Similarly it had two figures, and one of them spoiled an otherwise nice work. So I cut it down to a smaller painting that I am now pleased with.

Only the artist who created the work has the right to do such a thing. Hopefully what happened to Solomon's painting was not done by someone else.

अर्जुन said...

http://ia600305.us.archive.org/BookReader/BookReaderImages.php?zip=/10/items/royalacademyillu1900royauoft/royalacademyillu1900royauoft_jp2.zip&file=royalacademyillu1900royauoft_jp2/royalacademyillu1900royauoft_0097.jp2

XaviC said...

Comparing the whole b/w painting (even its low image quality) to the fragment, we can observe some small differences, what makes me think that it can be actually a study not a fragment of the entire painting. For exemple, the bottom of the cape of the knight, falling on the rear side of the young man's head seems to have a different shape and curve on every picture. Or the distance between the feet of the knight seems a little longer on the b/w whole painting than in the "study". And some other parts, but due to the quality of the black and white hole painting we can see here, maybe i am totally wrong ahnd it's all an illusion!
Thanks for sharing great painters and their works!!

XaviC said...

Ok, thanks for the better quality image of the painting! Now It makes me see that the actual color image is a fragment, while in progress, of the whole painting.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, अर्जुन --
That seems to be a much better file than the one I found on Google books. People can view the 1900 Royal Academy book of pictures for free here: http://archive.org/details/royalacademyillu1900royauoft

Florante Paghari-on said...

Hello James, judging the photo next to the blur black in white finished painting is pretty much the same except for the knight cape which is a bit more slant in the black in white, looking from the boy shoulder going up. Some dark portions of the foreground and also the boy's dark clothes when you follow the line on his back. The lower leg of the armor isn't look finish so maybe it was a copy or a study at all. Funny, its like doing the spot the difference.

Greg Newbold said...

I have done this before with a few of my illustrations. Sometimes I have parameters that I cannot control dictated by the publisher such as having to leave a large empty space for type. I have cut a few of these down and then reworked some of the remaining areas to adapt to the new proportions. I thereby have salvaged the good parts and made the new composition worthy of standing alone. Here is one example: http://gregnewbold.blogspot.com/2011/12/call-fire-brigade-no-just-repaint.html

Craig Banholzer said...

Remarkable bit of detective work! Thanks. I suppose other questions we could ask are: Was Solomon in the habit of painting such full-scale studies for his paintings? Was there a reason for him to be unsatisfied with the larger composition? Is it possible that the painting had been damaged somehow between 1900 and 1928? I like the entire large painting so much, it's hard to understand why the artist would hack it down in such a draconian manner, although I can think of at least a few cases of other artists doing the same, and it was usually the result of having received very negative reviews.

James Gurney said...

Craig, good questions. I do know that Solomon had a harder and harder time selling his historical and mythological painting as he entered the 20th century. So he abandoned stuff like Samson and Delilah in favor of portraits -- which he also excelled at. I suppose the piece of evidence we need is his sales records for his RA paintings. Assuming "Equipped" never sold and stayed in his collection (it was in his studio sale after his death so apparently it never sold), it would lend credence to the idea that he felt the page alone was more salable than the whole knight-in-armor thing. According to that logic he got out the scissors, as we artists all do from time to time.

Thulsa Doom said...

It should be easy to see if the "fragment" is a portion of the larger work, by looking at the tacking edge of the canvas (unless it has been re-lined and re-stretched to the margins of the original canvas). If it is a fragment cut from a larger canvas, the finished image should wrap onto the tacking edge, whereas if it is a study the edges would most likely remain unpainted.

Susan McLean said...
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Susan McLean said...
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Susan McLean said...
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Susan McLean said...

Sorry for all the false starts.

The particulars of the cropping aside, what strikes me is the change in the message or theme of the painting. The original composition seems to put the page in a subservient position, almost as an afterthought to getting the knight ready for battle, whereas the cropped painting gives the subject--the page--a sort of nobility in his service to the knight, so he is elevated in his position, both visually and metaphorically.

Craig Banholzer said...

Thulsa Doom: Yes, the tacking edge would be the smoking gun in this case! I'm surprised that the people at Christie's didn't look into this.

Tometheus said...

Am I the only one that thinks the knight looks an awful lot like a certain artist we all know?

Lane Brown said...

I think the small changes are indeed proof of the artist's hand. Although very subtle, they seem to reduce the illusion of a larger scene and draw more focus to the page's face and hands. For example the highlight on the knight's boot seem to have been reduced. The floor and background appear relatively darker as well.

Thanks for the post, it's so interesting to try and understand the mind of a great artist.