The son of an engraver and teacher of Hebrew living in Plymouth, Solomon Alexander Hart went to school only briefly before being tutored by a Unitarian minister, and then, after at least one unsuccessful attempt (see Hart 11), entering the Royal Academy Schools in London on 15 August 1823. The family had moved to London in 1820, but were poor, and he needed to support himself and his father by "colouring theatrical prints and copying old masters on ivory" (Valentine, and Hart 12). However, he began to make a reputation by showing miniatures and paintings on religious, historical and literary themes, and on 2 November 1835 became an associate of the Royal Academy. Travel in Europe in the early forties, on the advice of the Duke of Sussex, and also most probably of his neighbour in London, the well-travelled David Roberts, boosted his repertoire, and five years later, on 10 February 1840, he was elected to full membership of the Academy. He was the first Jewish person to achieve this standing. From 1854-1863 he served as Professor of Painting there, after which he became its Librarian, expending much energy on the task: "he found chaos and left a library" (qtd. in Valentine). As an observant Jew, he painted portraits of some prominent members of the Jewish community, such as Moses Montefiore (in 1869). However, says Richard Cohen,
Though Hart left several paintings with Jewish themes, relating in particular to Jewish ritual , he expressed above all the inner desire of the Jewish artist who had broken ground and entered into a profession uncommon for Jews in the previous generation, to succeed in the general sphere. He did not want to be known as a Jewish artist engaging in merely particularistic themes relevant to only a select part of the society. Hart and others vacillated between this desire to evoke universal feelings and situations, and a preoccupation with the Old and New Testament themes that could illuminate their inner religious struggles. 
He did actually say that he wished "to avoid the imputation of being the painter of merely religious ceremonies" (Hart 13). Despite such struggles, Hart was known for his sense of humour (which is evident from his Reminiscences) and especially for his enjoyment of puns (see Valentine). He was clubbable, serving on the committee of the Athenaeum club as well as, "repeatedly," on the Hanging Committee of the Royal Academy ("Obituary"). He wrote for the Athenaeum too, in addition to the Jewish Chronicle and other periodicals. He died on 11 June 1881, leaving his brief, entertaining, and sadly unfinished Reminiscences, edited by Alexander Brodie, to be published posthumously in 1882.
Cohen, Richard I. Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
Gossman, Lionel. From Expulsion to Emancipation: Jews in England 1290-1858. A Victorian Web Foundation book. 2020. (complete text).
Hart, Solomon. Reminiscences of Solomon Hart. Ed. Alexander Brodie. London: Wyman & Sons, 1882.
"Obituary." Times. 13 June 1881: 11. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 10 September 2018.
Rubinstein, William D., Michael A. Jolles, and Hilary L. Rubinstein. The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
"Solomon Alexander Hart, RA (April 1806-1881). Royal Academy of Art. Web. 10 September 2018.
Valentine, Helen. "Hart, Solomon Alexander (1806–1881), historical genre painter." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 10 September 2018.
"The Vernon Gallery: A Jewish Synagogue." Art Journal (1851): 186. Internet Archive. Contributed by the Getty Research Institute. Web. 10 September 2018.
Created 10 September 2018