Allegory and Symbolism in Simeon Solomon's Night

Angela Kim '06, English and History of Art 151, Brown University, 2004

Simeon Solomon emerged as a young, influential painter in the 1860s who joined the ranks of the later Pre-Raphaelites, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Edward Burne-Jones as well as the poet A. C. Swinburne. His friendship with Rossetti and Burne-Jones specifically allowed Solomon to draw many influences from these prominent painters, and these influences can be easily discerned when observing Solomons' art works. This circle of late Pre-Raphaelite artists triggered the movement towards aestheticism as well as the development of symbolic art using allegorical subjects and personification. These artists believed that "symbolic art would aspire to absolute beauty and transcend the time and place it was produced" (VW), and Solomon's drawing, Night appears to embody these ideals and desires held by the later Pre-Raphaelites.

In Night, Solomon personifies Night by presenting it as an allegorical female figure. Night, though a female, seems to resemble the androgynous faces that saturated the works of Burne-Jones. The broad nature of the face, highlighted by the wide-set eyes, seems to remind the viewer of male facial characteristics while the long, wavy hair and the pouting lips suggest a sensuality found in women. This infusion of female sensuality reflects the romanticized works by Rossetti, such as Regina Cordium or The Queen of Hearts. In addition, the hand of the figure that draws the veil closed across the chest of the figure "symbolizes the veil of night over day" (VW). The delicate manner in which Night holds the veil over her chest also appears to conjures up notions of female sensuality.

Questions

Sophie Gray 1. The allegorical figure, Night, looks straight out and appears to meet the viewer's gaze. What kind of effect does this direct gaze have? Why do you think Solomon gives Night such "an intense full-faced expression" (VW)? The straightforward stare of the subject in Sir John Everett Millais's Portrait of a Girl (Sophie Gray) appears to serve as the focal point of the painting. Does this seem to be the case here? What other similarities do you perceive between Night and Sophie Gray?

2. In his prose poem "A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep," Solomon writes, "Day was lulled to death in the all embracing arms of Night." Why do you think Solomon describes sunset and the eventual disappearance of day into night as death? Why do you think Solomon portrays Night as maintaining a superior position over Day?

3. Why do you think Solomon represents Night as a female as opposed to a male figure? What effects does this method produce? Additionally, in "A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep," Solomon personifies Day as a man who "sank beneath her (Night's) sacramental kiss. Why would Solomon choose to make the male figure an allegory for Day?

4. What aspects of Night reflects the romantic style of Rossetti, if any? Does Solomon appear to infuse mood and emotion into the drawing like Rossetti? If so, how does he accomplish this?


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Last modified 1 December 2004