Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
Pencil on paper
17 1/2 x 11 3/4 inches, 44.5 x 29.5 cm.
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Commentary by Hilary Morgan
In the heart of materialistic mid-Victorian society a small group of painters tried to develop a symbolic art which would aspire to absolute beauty and transcend the time and place in which it was produced. Simeon Solomon's 'Night' is a product of this movement. In the 1860s Solomon was a central figure in a group which included the painters Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Whistler and the writers Pater and Swinburne. In 1873, after his career collapsed in scandal, he worked in isolation, his historical importance unrecognised. This drawing dates from a turning point in the artist's life.
Solomon's circle was the only group of mid-Victorian artists to use allegory and personification in a meaningful and personal way. Night was an important theme for them, perhaps because night is a time of ambiguous values and visions. Simeon Solomon wrote: Night, Sleep, Death and the Stars they are the themes that I love best.'
In 1871 Simeon Solomon privately published his prose poem A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep which he had written in 1870. The narrative, which was of central importance to the artist's career, was based on the platonic theme of the fulfillment of the soul through earthly love. In a contemporary review, John Addington Symonds noted: 'Mr Solomon's prose poem is a key to the meaning of his drawings. It lays bare the hidden purpose of the artist, and enables us to connect picture with picture in a perfectly intelligible series.... As its name implies, this prose poem has for its subject love.... Mr Solomon's Love is not classical, not medieval, not Oriental; but it has a touch of all these qualities - the pure perfection ofthe classic form, the allegorical mysticism and pensive grace of the middle age, and the indescribable perfume of Orientalism ... Added to these general qualities we trace in this spirit of love a vague yet intense yearning a "Sehnsucht", which belongs to music and is essentially modern.'
'Night'appears to be the earliest of the symbolist drawings where Solomon uses such an intense full-faced expression. It is certainly his most powerful. The hand clasping the veil symbolises the veil of night being drawn over day. In A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep, Solomon describes this transition: 'She (Night) bore upon her knees one still beautiful, but pallid with woes, riven with wasting troubles, weary and dying; within her heart she hid his passing spirit; the waning golden light about him faded in the gloom of her hair, the falling blossoms of his head lightly strewed her dusky raiment wherewith she wholly enfolded him; he sank beneath her sacramental kiss, and Day was lulled to death in the all embracing arms of Night.'
Just as the works of Rossetti and Burne-Jones pre-date the whole European Symbolist movement so Simeon Solomon's 'Night' anticipates the work of the Belgian Symbolist, Fernand Khnopff, by over twenty years. Solomon's friend, Algernon Swinburne, had predicted as much in his conclusion to a long article on the artist: 'Time wears out the names of the best imitators and followers; but he whose place is his own, and that place high amongst his fellows, may be content to leave his life's work with all confidence to time.'
Ford, Julia Ellsworth. Simeon Solomon, an Appreciation. New York: Sherman, 1908.
Morgan, Hilary, and Peter Nahum. Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Their Century. London: Peter Nahum, 1989. Catalogue number 131.
Swinburne, A.C. Simeon Solomon: notes on his "Vision of Love" and other studies, Dark Blue. Edited by John C. Freund. London: Sampson Low Son and Marston, 1871.
Symonds, John Addington. "Solomon's "A Vision of Love" and other studies", pp. 189-90. Academy, 21, 2, 1 April 1871.
Last modified 1 December 2004