Biography: Simeon Solomon is unique among Victorian artists for his comfort in avowing his strong Jewish heritage and beliefs at a time when anti-Semitism was prevalent. The youngest in a large upper-working-class family, he manifested artistic talent at an early age. When he was ten, he began his artistic training under the tutelage of his artist siblings, brother Abraham (1824-1862) and sister Rebecca (1832-1886). He continued his studies at Leigh's Art School followed by Carey's Academy. He was accepted into the Royal Academy Schools when only fifteen and was the youngest artist exhibiting there in 1858, when his first work was accepted.
The Old Testament was the source of most of Solomon's early subject matter, which was strongly influenced by his sister Rebecca's deep spirituality. Through Rebecca and Abraham, he was introduced to Rossetti and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, including Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, and poets Algernon Swinburne and Walter Pater. Under the influence of his new acquaintances, and the Aesthetic Movement of Frederic Leighton, Oscar Wilde, and others-as well as several visits to Italy from 1866 on-his paintings became more classical in subject and style. His images of androgynous figures often verged on the homoerotic in their presentation, and this caused some discomfort, particularly within his family.
Like many, Solomon benefited from the explosion of the book and magazine industry. He created numerous illustrations, often biblical or Jewish in subject, for various periodicals. A series of drawings of Jewish ceremonies was published in platinotype in a portfolio of 1878. His six illustrative contributions to Dalziels' Bible Gallery (drawn in the 1860s, though published 1880) are masterful.
As early as 1870 Solomon was drinking heavily and living a wild social life. In 1873 he was arrested for gross indecency in a public restroom. Although the event was noted, the response was nothing like the press coverage given Oscar Wilde some years later. The result, however, was that Solomon was gradually ignored and dismissed by his artist and literary friends. His work was rarely exhibited after the arrest, and his drinking seems to have worsened. Although his family continued to support him, supplying him with materials for painting and drawing, he voluntarily spent the last twenty years of his life in a workhouse.
From "Biography of Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)" by Stephen Wildman, in 'Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum' (Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 2004), p. 371.