Thursday, September 27, 2012

Solomon's book, Day 1

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.

More about Solomon on the blog Underpaintings


Keith Parker said...

"Little or nothing to teach" sounds like some of the art schools out there today. Don't get me wrong I think theory is great, but nothing beats getting out there and doing the drawing and painting. I'm currently at a crossroads in my artistic journey, and I thought it was interesting that people seeking to further their education have been facing some of these same problems for so long. I just withdrew from an art school, which I'll be kind enough not to name here, yesterday because I didn't feel I was getting much out it. I was making A's but I was becoming increasingly complacent because I didn't need to push to be ahead of everyone around me. It wasn't a healthy environment for art in my opinion. So now the question is where is my France to escape to, to start learning for real.

James Gurney said...

Keith, thanks for not mentioning the school's name. I identify with your frustration, and I faced the same decision after two semesters in art school. All art schools face a tough challenge because they know that artists, unlike doctors or accountants, don't need certification or diplomas to succeed--artists can get work in the field solely with fantastic portfolio. One regime of instruction might work for one student but not for another.

Every student has to constantly weigh whether they're getting enough out of school, recognizing that every school has its strengths and limitations, and everyone has to figure out how to supplement what they get in school with books, workshops, videos, or working experience.

Keith Parker said...

Thanks for sharing that story James. It's good to know I'm not crazy for feeling the way I felt. What you said makes a lot of sense. I think that it was a good expirience for me to go there and it did give me some much needed confidence, hopefully I'll find the right course of action for where I'm at now. I'm looking into a much more hands on studio environment.

C.J. Bloomer said...

Keith, Might I suggest you find an already working artist to apprentice/learn the ropes from. I know my school fell face forward on teaching the business of being an artist, but I was fortunate enough to supplement that shortfall.
It's definitely nice to push your art to its limit, but it's also nice to be able to build a foundation to be compensated for your efforts.
Good Luck!

Brian David MacNeil said...

great book. i've already read it. direct and straight to the point.

Tomas de Zarate said...

Is it possible to get a brief inside view of the book? unfortunetly, amazon's doesn t give one with this book.
Besides Brian, does anyone of you read it?

Pyracantha said...

The figure of Samson in the Solomon painting reminds me of Victor Mature in the 1949 film "Samson and Delilah."

Rich said...

...and lady Delilah in the first painting is awfully white-skinned. Some tanning on the beach would do her some good:o) In those times a sickly kind of bloodless complexion like this was considered very much noble looking.

Anonymous said...

"Ajax and Cassandra" seems Frazetta-esque in many ways; his feet look awkwardly placed in the environment, though, giving the figures a cut out and paste look.

Katana Leigh said...

I don't believe in art school. i would have learned much more spending that money on materials and a few quality art books and spending the time on the excercises they recommend. Business school is the same- better to learn from the writings and products of business people than teachers. However - I didn't have the discipline to do what I should have done so I suppose i learned as much as i was going to in that five year period no matter where I was. Glad that is over.
art school is very emporer's new clothes.