The Tragic Case of Simeon Solomon

This artical appeared in Lilliput magazine in 1944 by Thomas Burke. It is a brief biography of Simeon Solomon; the artist rejected by society because of his conviction for sodomy in 1873 (sentenced to Hard labour) and in ’74, when he was arrested in Paris for soliciting men and spent three months in a Paris jail.

From a wealthy family his brother Abraham was an artist as well as his sister Rebecca. His lifestyle bought him to alcoholism and he became a vagrant despite his family connections. He was a beautiful and talented young man.


Nobody pays much attention to the work of pavement artists, or to the “artists” themselves. So nobody, passing along Bayswater Road in the first years of this century, paid much attention to a blotchy, unkempt screever and his coloured chalk drawings. Nobody even noticed that the drawings had an assured ease not usual in the work of screevers. Pennies in the cap were few.

Simeon Solomon – Bacchus, 1867

But if people had been better informed they would surely have given more than a casual glance to the man who had been hung in the Academy for twelve consecutive years, and had been an admired friend of Burne-Jones, Walter Pater and Swinburne. For Simeon Solomon was an artist whose name appears, always with epithets of regret and compassion, in many volumes of the art and literary memoirs of the later nineteenth century.

A queer story, his; one of those stories of wreckage of bright hopes of which the nineteenth century holds so many; among them Thomas Dermody, John Mitford, Charles Whitehead, James Thomson (B.V.) and Ernest Dowson.

With most of them the cause was drink; for the drink of the nineteenth century was of more fiery and mordant temper than the drink of this century which, if it has fewer geniuses, has fever stories of wreckage. With Simeon Solomon the causes were many and obscure.

He was born in Shoreditch, son of a Jewish hatter. Drawing and painting came instinctively to him at an early age. At 15 he entered the Royal Academy Schools, and was first hung at the annual exhibition when he was 17. The subject of that first picture, like the subjects of most of his pictures, was taken from the Old Testament, and its manner was that now known as Pre-Raphaelite. At this time he is described as a handsome graceful figure, with red hair, an exquisite profile, and brilliant eyes. His appearance alone made people notice him, and when his work was seen he won the acclamation of many of the alert, among them Swinburne and Pater; white Burne-Jones, writing years latter in a perhaps over-generous mood, said that “Simeon Solomon was the greatest artist of us all.”

Simeon Solomon – The Magic Crystal, 1878

Like many of the artists of that group he had a literary gift., and a rare little pamphlet of his – A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep – May sometimes be turned up by the curious. Swinburne gave his work an enthusiastic review; Pater too admired it. Written in the rather inflated prose used by De Quincey, it records the wanderings of a spirit conducted through a land where he sees the figure of Love in different stages of suffering, caused by the wrongs and abuses inflicted on man. For some years Solomon was a vogue and a figure in intelligent circles. He was often Pater’s guest at Oxford he visited Lord Houghton (Monckton Milnes); stayed with Oscar Browning, then a master at Eton; and was much seen with Swinburne.

But he didn’t want his gifts or his personal beauty. He threw them to the dogs. The rot set in when he was about thirty. What caused it is not clear, but at that time it was not drink. It was something more serious; something that caused Oscar Browning , when he was talking him on a tour of the Italian galleries, to part company with him and come home alone. There are stories of drugs and of indiscreet aberrations. Unpleasant elements began to appear in his work, notably in those presenting ideas of love. Also, it became coarse and careless in treatment, and he repeated his subjects. Friends warned him against prostituting his genius. He ignored them.

His aberrations soon became too extreame even for Bohemia. Men began to withdraw from him, and his name began to be spoken in polite circles only in a pitying murmur. Swinburne not only broke with him; he spoke of him as “a thing abhorrent to man, woman and beast.”

The end of his vogue came as abruptly as it began. He had some fifteen years if success, prosperity and respect. Then he turned his back on it all, and deliberately lived the rest of his life as an exile, among the social outcasts.

Simeon Solomon – Mrs Fanny Eaton, 1859

His conduct eventually led to a term in prison, but in prison he wrought no cure. His family got him into a mental home; that, too, was ineffectual. When he came out, many efforts were made to reclaim him. They were futile. By that time he had added drink to his other indulgences and seemed beyond hope. He was set up with clothes, a studio and a decent home. He never used the studio. He sold only the clothes and furniture and returned to the gutter.

Dealers were still willing to buy his work, and one or two supplied him with the necessary materials and small advances, though they could never rely on actually getting the drawings. But though he had lost all moral sense, he did not lose his good human feeling. For long periods he was an inmate of St. Giles Workhouse, and when he did deliver a drawing and collect the money, he would take some of the old workhouse boys for the day and bring them all home tight.

He was not above sponging on successful artists with whom he had once been equal, and there is a story that, having successfully touched a prosperous artist and noticed the rich contents of his home, he repaid the loan by coming back with one of his gutter friends, a professional burglar, and breaking in. But he and the burglar were both so drunk, and made so much noise, that they roused the artist. He came down, and found Simeon Soloman with the dining room silver dropping out of his pockets. He contented himself with kicking the once famous artist down the steps. For a time Solomon sold matches in the gutter at Whitechapel, but no more successful at that than as a pavement artist.

The decline and fall of a sensitive spirit is usually pitiful, but Soloman needs no pity. In his outcaste state he was quite happy, and seemed to enjoy the shabby freedom of rags and irresponsibility.

A friend of mine, one of the few living men who met him, told me of his first sight of him in the closing years. My friend, then a young man, saw a drawing in a Regent Street print shop, and was struck by it and bought it for three guineas. He had never heard of the artists, and asked the dealer who was this Simeon Solomon. The dealer said “If you look through the door you’ll see him.” My friend looked out to Regent Street, but could see no artist. He saw a ragged, decrepit old waif of the streets looking in the window, but nobody like an artist. He said “I don’t see anybody.” The dealer said “There – at the window. That’s Simeon Solomon, friend of Burne-Jones and Rossetti and Swinburne. He’s waiting till you’ve gone to come in and touch me for five bob on account.”

Somehow or other he supported this submerged and vagrant life for thirty years. He lingered on in drink and degradation till he was 64; til all those who had known him had forgotten him or presumed him dead. Then, one night in 1905, he was found unconscious on the pavement in Holborn, and was carried to his old home, St Giles Workhouse, and in its infirmary he died.

Tributes, to the genius which he threw away, are many. Even the respectable Oscar Browning, a reputed social snob, could say of this ruined outcast “He was a genius both in art and writing, and his name deserves to be remembered… I am proud to acknowledge that he was one of my friends.”

Garwood

Phyllis Dodd – Tirzah Garwood, 1929

This is a magazine cutting about the Tirzah Garwood memorial exhibition of Tirzah Garwood at the Towner Art Gallery.

Eillen Lucy Garwood – a memorial exhibition of whose work will be held at the Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, from 12th April to 11th May – was the third child of the late Lieut-Col. F.S. Garwood, of Upperton, Eastbourne, hence her name, from Tertia. When she died in March 1951, after a long and painful illness, she was not quite 42; yet in that brief span she had borne three children to one of England’s leading watercolourists and designers, Eric Ravilious, also an Eastbourne man, whom she met while a student at the School of Art; and she had made a personal contribution as an artist in her own right, which the author of this memoir is not alone in considering unique among women. A small selection of her work appeared earlier in the year in London, and one painting formed the cover of The Listener for 17th January.

Her career was curiously personal. When 21, she sent two wood-cuts to the annual exhibition of the Society of Wood-Engravers, and they were good enough to be noticed by the critics of The Times and the New Statesman, along with the work of artists already famous, or destined to achieve fame soon. The cuts were the fruit of work which at the time consisted mainly of satires on middle-class society: shoppers in Kensington, the inmates of hotels, family circles of varying degrees of horror (although her own was happy), a study of Crufts in which animal and human relations were traced with a not loving hand, a macabre study of a middle-aged woman yawning. The occasional children, on the other hand, were always drawn more kindly.

The eclarity and the finish of these works were masterful, and she received a number of commissions from patrons who included the BBC. For them she designed the first coat of arms used in official publications, and various illustrations for plays and booklets, that incidentally showed up her weakness in imagining scenes not immediately beneath her austere and merciless eye.
This early success was destined to be her one and only public appearance for many years. She was discouraged by adverse criticism of her imaginative work; and she had married. Occasionally, she helped her husband, as in the decoration of a hotel at Morecambe Bay. Later, with Charlotte Bawden, she revived the craft of marble papers, of which rather an indifferent example may be seen in the endpapers of the modern Everyman; but only the Japanese seem to have taken official notice, although the designs enjoyed a success among limited aesthetic circles, locally in Essex, where she was living, and in London.

She also made about 45 pencil sketches of her children, and the familiar village scene, of unexampled accuracy and delicacy, in drawing books characteristically later given up to childish scribbling. It was only after the death of her husband on active service as a war artist that she slowly resumed more ambitious work, mainly in the form of paper “models” of houses, mounted in frames, which, year by year, headed the poll of the exhibitions organised for children by the movements for Education in Art. Beside paper, she employed various other materials, like velvet and stuff retrieve from drawers and cupboards, as children would have done, and do, but with a clarity and skill of hand that far exceeded any child’s.

Her subjects were first the small farms of Essex, and streets in the market towns. Later, she ranged farther afield, improving her technique all the time, to produce a child actually swinging beside a romantic villa in Walton, or a blue and white house in the Vale of Heath, in Hampstead, to which she moved. An amateur bull on the shutter of a butcher’s shop in Islington attracted her attention, and she executed it in depth, with meat and butchers made of pyruma, and a shutter that could be pulled up and down. She often said that her last year was the happiest of her life, for then, when she was largely bed-ridden, and often in pain, she was able to concentrate almost exclusively on her work, which now took the form of paintings in oil. She completed twenty, to add to those she had already painted sporadically; and they form her most considerable work. In them she returned largely to her first love, birds and beasts and flowers, done with affection but without a trace of sentiment, in the firm hand that could draw a straight line much straighter than many can rule it.

All the subjects needed to be copied but the copies were related in terms of her imagination. With the flowers, she often associated objects of the new industrial age. Thus, an early Stephenson toy train in her possession stands in red and yellow, against the downs near Lewes, dun and earthy, farmhouse and stacks and fifty individual sheep in the background, on a base of poppies and corn. Georgian toy horses, very red and white, stand in front of a manger, hanging like a poem by de la Mare in a field of poppies that overtop the roof.

A picture of orchids hunters in Brazil illustrates the working of her imagination; for we learn from diaries that the subject had probably lain in her main for sixteen years, since someone reported a conversation with a gardener on Lord Gage’s estate at Firle. With one exception, the pictures that she painted show nothing at all of the fear of death, but only this simple delight in the thing in itself: flowers from friends, a cluster of mares tails, a cinnabar moth and bees, a tortoise and toad, her cat returning triumphant in the dawn, an early aeroplane (taken from a period Eastbourne postcard) hovering like a mosquito over a lintel of spring flowers. The solitary exception was a grey Spanish water jug, self coloured, in the form of a tall lady in the sprigged costume of the late nineteenth century, whoes colour in any case demanded the dun and deep blue landscape of owls and mysterious stars and palest daffodils. Tirzah Garwood was a rare spirit, absolutely clear, humorous, sometimes cruel, always herself with a gift of peach rare in this generation, only achieved by ruthless disciplining of a naturally passionate nature. Her art, limited though it is, is of the highest possible quality. One of her paintings, of a house at Canna in the Hebrides, hangs in juxtaposition to a Picasso and a Henry Moore; although totally different in every respect, it is not diminished in that company.

Tirzah Garwood – Orchid Hunters in Brazil, 1950

Book Update

I thought I should post an update on the Lucie Aldridge book, for a while it has been finished and it has gone out to be printed and bound. Though I will have more news for you soon about it all, there has been some delay in the process of production due to multitude of issues even I don’t fully understand, but it is coming soon. Against most economic logic of printing it in China or Italy, I actually I have had it printed and bound in the UK, I think it is important to support local companies when one can. I thank everyone who has enquired about it. It is coming, it’s just taking slightly longer than I hoped. I share your frustrations but after years of silence, Lucie will have a voice at last.

Front Cover: Before & After Great Bardfield.
The artistic memoirs of Lucie Aldridge.

Eric Fraser

Eric Fraser – The Tempest, 1951

Sometimes you really want to write about an artist but you don’t know what works to talk about and then inspiration comes upon you. On a trip to Booton Church (Bawden had painted it) there was a book stall in the lifeless church and on it found The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, edited by Peter Alexander. The plates were designed by Eric Fraser in 1951.

Eric Fraser – The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 1951

1951 was the year of the Festival of Britain and the Royal Shakespeare Company staged The Tempest. The Festival gave the nation a feel good feeling that publishers were quick to notice and promotions of nationalistic icons are bought out to reaffirm Britishness in the post-war era. It happened again in the 80s when there was a spike in the middle classes going to look upon National Trust houses and English Heritage homes.

Eric Fraser – Hamlet, 1951

Born Eric George Fraser on 11 June 1902 in Vincent Street, London. He was educated at Westminster City School and attended Walter Sickert’s evening classes at Westminster School of Art. In 1919, he won a scholarship to Goldsmiths’ College School of Art.

In his working life he illustrated scenes from mythology, such as Beowulf fighting the dragon and it might have been this that got him the job illustrating Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings for the Folio Society. He also designed the LP Cover for the BBC’s Radio Drama.

He took on many adverts and dust jackets, indeed almost too many to narrow down. As a young designer, the first book I bought for my collection of dust jackets was Frasers cover of The Simplicity of Science, 1962.

Headshot

What is the most popular photograph in the world? Well it might be the photograph below by John Hedgecoe. It has appeared internationally on over two hundred billion stamps in Britain and the Commonwealth. He was a photographer who lived in Little Dunmow, Essex.

In 1966, he was approached by the postmaster general to take a portrait of the Queen. A session took place in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and, despite the quantity of film expended, lasted only 20 minutes. When the Queen inquired whether he had finished – “So soon, Mr Hedgecoe?” – he seized the opportunity for a second impromptu shoot in the music room. The Queen selected her preferred image and the sculptor Arnold Machin then made a plaster bust, which Hedgecoe photographed for the stamps.

John Hedgecoe obituary, The Guardian, 2010

Below are a selection of other photos that Hedgecoe took in the session with the queen, both with a background and some as a silhouette.

Both were used to make Arnold Machin’s sculpture relief of the queen seen here in different light and at a slight angle to each other.

Here is a design Arnold Machin submitted in 1968 when the Royal Mint were looking to replace the currency for decimalisation in 1970. This without the text. The winning front side of the coin was by Robin Ironside.

Hedgecoe was born in Brentford, Middlesex, the son of a banker. Becoming interested in photography when he was 14. During the Second World War his family moved to Gulval, near Penzance in Cornwall. Hedgecoe attended Guildford School of Art (now University for the Creative Arts), while also completing his National Service with the RAF. During his service with the RAF, Hedgecoe experimented with aerial photographic surveys of bomb damage from the war. In 1957, he started work as a staff photographer at a magazine, until 1972. He worked at the RCA as a professor of Photography and died in 2010.

As well as over ten books on photography Hedgecoe wrote one novel, Breakfast with Dolly, illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Jim Ede

Harold Stanley Ede, known as Jim Ede was born in Penarth, Wales. The son of solicitor Edward Hornby Ede and Mildred, a teacher.

Ede studied painting under Stanhope Forbes at Newlyn Art School between 1912 and 1914. Called up to fight in September 1914 during the First World War, he served with the South Wales Borderers and the Indian Army. He relinquished his commission in consequence of ill health, and was granted the rank of captain, 29 July 1919.

After the war, he continued his studies at the Slade School of Art. In 1921, Ede became assistant curator at the National Gallery of British Art (later the Tate Gallery) in London whilst continuing to study part-time at the Slade. Shortly after, he married Helen Schlapp whom he had met in Edinburgh. Whilst working at the Tate, he tried to promote the work of contemporary artists, including Picasso and Mondrian. However, he was often thwarted by the more conservative attitudes of the gallery directors. During his time at the Tate, Ede formed numerous friendships with avant-garde artists of the day. In the process, he acquired many works of art that were largely under-appreciated at the time. In particular, he secured much of the work of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska from the estate of Sophie Brzeska. The collection included numerous letters sent between Henri and Sophie, and Ede used these as the basis for his book Savage Messiah on the life and work of Gaudier-Brzeska, which in turn became the basis of Ken Russell’s film of the same name.

Below are a few of his paintings made all in one year, 1928.

Harold Stanley Ede – Trees by a Lake, 1928

Harold Stanley Ede – House with Red Roof, 1928

Harold Stanley Ede – Scottish Hayricks with Sea Beyond, 1928

From the Singer

Although the first sewing machine was in 1755 it took some years for people to understand the potential of it. It was a chain-stitching machine, though we are used to lockstitch machines. It was Barthélemy Thimonnier, who invented something what we would consider to be a sewing machine in 1829 but it was large and cumbersome and only really practical for stitching ships sails.

It was in 1851 that Isaac Merritt Singer invented the Singer Sewing machine, a more compact and ergonomic design with table top surface and a crank handle. In the 1870s the treadle base was introduced allowing the operator self power the stitching and have two hands free to guide the fabric. In the 1930s the sewing machine locked into the table top to make a flat table, this was the marketplace revolution that meant the sewing machine could be in the home as a piece of furniture as well as something useful. When electricity came to the home motors were designed for Singer machines but it is surprising how long singer were selling the tredal bases for.

The invention of the sewing machine had several very significant impacts. Firstly, it changed the domestic life of many women. As more households began to own sewing machines, women, the ones who traditionally stayed home to do chores including making and repairing clothing, found themselves with more free time. When previously several days a week would be dedicated to sewing clothing for herself and her family, a housewife could now complete her sewing in a mere several hours, allowing for more free time to pursue hobbies and attain new skills.

When Isaac Merritt Singer was born to immigrant parents in America, though his parents divorced and as the youngest of eight children and feeling abandoned he ran away from home to join a travelling group of actors called the Rochester Players. He found work as a machinist and worked in machine workshops working lathes. He patented a machine to drill hard rocks in 1839 and sold it to the Illinois and Michigan Canal Canal building company for $2000. With some money behind him, bizarrely he returned to acting. In 1849 he patented a carving machine. While working on this project he looked at sewing machines and realised they could be manufactured and operated much more successfully.

By the time he died in 1875, he had fathered 24 children. He was worth $13 Million ($310 in today’s inflation). Though he was born in New York and extremely wealthy he was buried in Torquay. In 1871 he had built an extraordinary house called Oldway Mansion in Paignton, Devon and with a grand vision in 1904 his son Paris, remodelled the house on the Palace of Versailles.

Isaac Merritt Singer’s funeral was an elaborate affair with eighty horse-drawn carriages, and around 2,000 mourners, and at his request in three layers of coffin (cedar lined with satin, lead, English oak with silver decoration) and a marble tomb. The SS Isaac M Singer was named after him in 1943.

After Isaac’s death his wife Isabelle remarried to an abusive belgian violinist called Victor-Nicolas Reubsaet. It is rumored he sexually and domestically abused his new daughters, including Winnaretta Singer. She was one of Isaac’s many daughters and in 1887 Winnaretta married Prince Louis de Scey-Montbéliard really to gain control of her inheritance, escape the abusive household and to live among Parisian artists and musicians. She studied painting under Félix Barrias and for a time was in Manet’s studio.

Winnaretta Singer – Self Portrait, c1885

She was a lesbian. On her wedding night she climbed on top of a wardrobe, brandishing an umbrella and said “I am going to kill you if you come near me!” After two years the marriage was annulled on the grounds it was unconsummated.

In 1893 Winnaretta later married the 59 year old Prince Edmond de Polignac, a rather cash-strapped man and homosexual, having little sexual interest in each other suited them well. He mixed in the artistic circles she had hoped to be in and befriended Gabriel Fauré, Chausson, Debussy, Wagner, Proust and Delafosse to name a few. Prince Edmond was a composer. Together they moved from Paris to Venice, buying the Palazzo Contarini Polignac on the Grand Canal. With some restorations they entertained people from Monet to Stravinsky there.

Claude Monet – Palazzo Contarini, 1908.

Edmond died in 1901 and Winnaretta became a patron for composers, arranging performances and festivals of their but, but also sponsoring them to write pieces. Ravel dedicated Pavane pour une infante défunte to her. She commissioned many works including Satie’s La mort de Socrate and Poulenc’s Concerto pour 2 pianos. She owned many works of art including Les Dindons by Monet.

Claude Monet – Les Dindons, 1877.

Polignac had a relationship with painter Romaine Brooks, which had begun in 1905, and which effectively ended her affair with Olga de Meyer, who was married at the time and whose godfather (and purported biological father) was Edward VII. Composer and conductor Ethel Smyth fell deeply in love with her during their affair. In the early 1920s, Polignac became involved with pianist Renata Borgatti. From 1923 to 1933, her lover was the British socialite and novelist Violet Trefusis,[5] with whom she had a loving but often turbulent relationship. Alvilde Chaplin, the future wife of the author James Lees-Milne, was involved with Singer from 1938 to 1943; the two women were living together in London at the time of Winnaretta’s death.

April

This is the illustration for ‘April’ in the Good Food cookery book by Ambrose Heath in 1932. Rather like Ravilious, Bawden used the local area around Great Bardfield for illustrations. The farm scene is from Bluegate Hall Farm, Great Bardfield.

Edward Bawden – April, 1932

The barns and tree still stand today but there are a multitude of modern barns around the yard.

Edward Bawden – Bluegate Hall Farm

A few decades later John Aldridge painted the farmyard.

John Aldridge – Bluegate Hall, Great Bardfield, 1952

Below is the view from the other side of the tree, notice the gate behind the tree in Bawden’s illustration, is now in front.

John Aldridge – Bluegate Hall, Great Bardfield

Brighton Aquatints

I remember when I first saw some of John Piper’s etchings on the wall of a friends dining room at a party. From across the room I thought them to be French mid-century prints that one finds Montmartre. Etchings in colour, to me always make me think of French influence and the 50s. In fact in Britain coloured etchings were the sacrilege of a pure artform that had mostly survived unadulterated in Britain until the Second World War.

Produced in a bound book called Brighton Aquatints in 1939, Pipers etchings were produced in both colour (in an edition of 50) and black and white (in an edition of 200).

John Piper – Chapel of St George, Kemp Town, 1939

In trying to form his own original ideas Piper took to collage and quick abstracted drawings of the landscape around him. Maybe to fit in with the artists based in St Ives he turned to the sea. In the drawing below you can see Piper has used ripped paper to give the colour and then a simple line drawing on top, making the paper the dramatic element from being ripped to when it is harshly cut. The brickwork in the etching above is made from type collage.

John Piper – Littlestone on Sea, 1936

John Piper – Near Dungeness, 1933

I believe it was in these ripped lines of paper that Piper learnt how to apply colour, as painted solid slabs with texture added. As in the two paintings below. It would also be the way he approached printmaking and lithography.

John Piper – Interior of Coventry Cathedral, 15 November 1940

John Piper – Entrance to Fonthill, 1940

Though originally designed the Brighton etchings as monochrome illustrations these etchings by Piper still demanded he thought about the drama of the buildings and their shadows. It’s a much freer hand than traditional etching giving them a more modern feel. Here he has used those blocks of colour aquatint over the etching.

John Piper – Kemp Town, 1939

I found the Piper prints work contemplating, looking at the railings, the balconies and the architecture of Brighton. The original book by Piper now makes around two thousand pounds.

John Piper – Brighton from the Station Yard, 1939

John Piper’s Brighton: The Story of Brighton Aquatints with a foreword by Alan Powers is out now, available from the Mainstone Press. £35

Lost London

Here are two watercolours by the Great Bardfield artist Sheila Robinson. I bought them because I love both the architectural details in them, but also the typographic elements. Both of them are in St Pancras.

Sheila Robinson – 3 Leigh Street, London. High Class Shoe Repairs

In March, 1809, the Skinners’ Company built the streets around Sandwich and Leigh Street, the latter joining on to Judd Street.

Below is a painting of Sandwich Street. The building in the painting is now demolished for a set of flats. The horse drinking out of the metal bath makes me wonder if that is the home of the man who owns the cart.

Sandwich Street’s first house was built in 1812. Eighteen followed in 1813; by 1814 there were thirty and, by 1824, forty-seven.

Sheila Robinson – Sandwich Street, London.