Simeon Solomon: The Rise and Fall of an Artist



Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) was a British painter associated with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Aesthetic Movement. For a time his work was dismissed because of his "degenerate habits"; he is now celebrated for his accomplishments as well as for being a gay man living in Victorian England. Born in London to an artistic Jewish family he attended Royal Academy Schools where he became known for his remarkable paintings of Old Testament subjects. There he met Pre-Raphaelite artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones along with their creative circle.

Through this group he was introduced to the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) who influenced him with his love of classicism and erotica. Solomon illustrated Swinburn's pornographic novel Lesbia Brandon and his ode to flagellation, The Flogging-Block. He was also informed by the classical world he saw on his visits to Italy and used allegory and personification in his art. In 1873, at the height of his popularity he was arrested at a public urinal in London for attempting to commit sodomy and fined £100. The following year he was arrested in Paris on a similar charge. This time he was sentenced to three months in prison.

As a result of the scandal his influential friends shunned him including Swinburne with whom he once romped naked at Rossetti's home. By 1884 Solomon was living in a workhouse and died as a pauper from a heart failure as a result of alcoholism. He is shown at a happier time in Oriental costume photographed by David Wilkie Wynfield (1837-1887).