Introduction: Literary and Artistic Relations

When Edward Burne-Jones met Simeon Solomon in the late 1850s, he thought his work as imaginative as anything he had ever seen. Solomon showed precocious talent, exhibiting his first Royal Academy picture at the age of 18 in 1858. During the 1860s he was a highly influential young artist, one of the circle which was moving towards aestheticism, and which included Rossetti, Burne-Jones and the poet Swinburne.

Solomon and Swinburne met in 1863, they became close friends and exercised a mutual influence on each other. Swinburne was at this time reading widely in classical literature including Ovid, Homer and Euripides. Inspired by this and by three trips to Italy between 1866 and 1870, Solomon was one of the instigators of the revival of classicism in the 1860s; this aspect of his work is shown in The Little Improvisatice. — Peter Nahum.

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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.

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.'— Hilary Morgan


Theme and Technique


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Last modified 27 July 2020