SIMEON SOLOMON (1840 -1905)
A poet and painter affiliated with the Pre-Raphaelite group, Solomon was uncompromising in expressing his sexuality in life and art. By the early 1870s, Solomon was an established artist, experimenting with depicting intense, androgynous figures, and writing his most notable prose poem Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep in 1871. These works are now understood as Solomon’s expression of his own desires.
In 1873, Solomon was arrested for being intimate with another man, which led to brief incarcerations in two different London asylums. Discharged from these as 'unimproved', he went to France, where he was arrested over another homosexual encounter and charged with 'outrage to public decency'. This time he was sentenced to three months in jail. While Solomon continued to paint, and also to write (including his poem about same-sex love, A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep) these 'scandals' effectively ended his career. Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater collected his works but Solomon himself died in the workhouse of a condition related to alcoholism.
Solomon’s work on display dates from 1887 long after his ‘banishment’ from polite society. This highly sensitive pastel work has hints of the indeterminate gender of many his subjects. While we know that this work depicts a woman from the title, the strong facial features hint at a more typically masculine profile. This depiction too is at odds with other Pre-Raphaelites’ depictions of Ophelia as a rather more delicate figure. This exploration of androgyny is evident in the other works we hold by Solomon, one before is arrests and one after, as seen below.
His experience reflects how society regarded homosexuality and the punishments it was prepared to administer. The law would not change in England for another 94 years.
Image: Simeon Solomon, Self-Portrait, 1859, Tate N03410 © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)