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Solomon, Simeon (1840-1905)  
 
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Known for his association with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Aesthetic Movement, Simeon Solomon lived a life marked by both stunning success and wasteful tragedy.

He is significant for glbtq culture, for he chose to live openly as a homosexual at a time when it was not socially acceptable to do so; he wrote an important prose poem that may be read as a defense of male-male desire; and he created works depicting male figures who are representative of love.

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In addition, Solomon may be seen as a victim of late nineteenth-century English .

Although he had earned recognition as an artist, Solomon's life and career deteriorated after his arrest for "buggery" in 1873. He lived most of the remaining 32 years of his life as a social outcast and his work faded into oblivion after his death in 1905. It has only recently been re-examined.

Simeon, the youngest of eight children born to Meyer Solomon and Kathe Levey, was born on October 9, 1840. The Solomon family was the first Orthodox Jewish family permitted to conduct business in London during the nineteenth century.

Solomon's father became a prominent merchant in the city. Kathe Levey was an artist, as were two of Simeon's siblings--his brother Abraham (1823-1862) and his sister Rebecca (1832-1886).

At age ten Simeon began to take art lessons from Abraham, who had attended the Royal Academy of Art School. Two years later, Simeon attended Carey's Art Academy in the city and his sister, Rebecca, exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art for the first time.

Four years later Simeon also premiered at the Royal Academy Summer Art Exhibition. His work continued to be shown in the same exhibition through 1872.

Reflective of his Jewish background, Solomon's early works, such as Isaac Offered (1858), Saul (1859), Moses in His Mother's Arms (1860), Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego (1863), and Habet! (1865), were based on Hebrew themes. Some of these Hebraic paintings, such as David Playing the Harp before Saul (1859), portray sexually ambiguous situations.

During 1857, Solomon met Pre-Raphaelite artists in the home of the group's leader, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Among the artists and authors he met were Edward Burne-Jones, Frederic Leighton, William Morris, and Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Solomon learned the group's manner of draftsmanship and designed some stained glass pieces for William Morris's firm, Morris, Marshall, and Faulkner and Co. The contact with the Pre-Raphaelites, especially Burne-Jones, probably influenced Solomon's adoption of a more androgynous figure style.

By 1863 Solomon had also designed stained glass with Edward Burne-Jones for All Saints Church in Middleton and modeled for Rossetti's stained glass Sermon on the Mount at Christ Church in London.

The opening of the Dudley Gallery in London in 1865 allowed Solomon and other artists to exhibit works with more daring subjects than those accepted at the Royal Academy.

During these years Solomon created such works of homoerotic content as Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytelene (1864), Love among the School Boys (1866), The Bride and Bridegroom (1866), Sad Love (1866), Love in Autumn (1866), and two versions of Bacchus (1866 and 1867).

These works envision an alternative to straitened Victorian ideals of heterosexual love and matrimony. Solomon exhibited frequently at the Dudley Gallery through 1872.

In 1864 Solomon began a close friendship with Swinburne, whose own fascination with flagellation rites, lesbianism, and decadence provided a wealth of subject matter for Solomon. His illustrations for Swinburne's novel Lesbia Brandon (1865) and poem The Flogging Block (1865), for example, allowed Solomon to explore deeply transgressive subjects.

In the late 1860s, Solomon began to travel to Italy in order to study the old masters. These trips stimulated his imagination and resulted in works on classical themes.

During this period, Solomon moved away from his family's Judaism toward an interest in the Anglo-Catholic Church. The church's use of colorful vestments and altar linens, as well as stained glass and grand architecture, liturgy, and music, appealed to Solomon's aesthetic sense.

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zoom in
Top: A photograph (ca 1870) of Simeon Solomon by David Wilkie Wynfield.
Center: Solomon's painting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Above: A sketch of Socrates and Agathodemos by Solomon.

  
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