Night Looking Upon Sleep Her Beloved Child (II)
Around 1857–8 Simeon Solomon was introduced to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and joined the Pre-Raphaelite circle, soon becoming a favourite of the group, especially with Edward Burne-Jones, who called Solomon the ‘greatest artist of them all’. For a period he enjoyed the support of a number of wealthy patrons and Pre-Raphaelite collectors. Among their wider circle Solomon was also influenced by Algernon Swinburne and Walter Pater, key exponents of the Aesthetic movement. Following three trips to Italy in the 1860s, Solomon changed his style and subject matter concentrating on classical Renaissance imagery often shot through with a languid eroticism and exploring same-sex desire.
This delicate watercolour is closely tied up with the mystical, dreamlike atmosphere of Solomon’s prose poem, A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep, which he published in 1871, dedicated to his friend Burne-Jones. Solomon’s late heads often represent abstract themes, such as Night, Love and Death and this is one of many reworkings. The two heads, Night and Sleep, with their distinctive classical features, are physically close, but do not look directly at one another. Night wraps them both protectively in her cloak, while looking upon her child Sleep with her closed eyes. Night’s own expression is dream-like, with just a hint of suffering.
Swinburne wrote of Solomon’s subjects:
There is a questioning wonder in their faces, a fine joy and a faint sorrow, a trouble as of water stirred, a delight as of thirst appeased. Always a feast or sacrifice, in chamber or in field, the air and carriage of their beauty has something in it of the strange: hardly a figure but has some touch, though never so delicately slight, either of eagerness or of weariness, some note of expectation or of saiety, some semblance of outlook or inlook; but prospective or introspective, an expression is there which is not pure Greek, a shade or tone of thought or feeling beyond Hellenic contemplation; whether it be oriental or modern in its origin, and derive from national or personal sources. This passionate sentiment of mystery seems at time to “o’er inform its tenement” of line and colour, and impress itself even to perplexity upon the sense of the spectator.
After his death, Solomon’s work began to be reassessed. In 1906 two memorial exhibitions were held in London at the Royal Academy and the Baillie Gallery, and in 1908 Julia Ellsworth Ford published Simeon Solomon: An Appreciation. In 2005–6 Birmingham Art Gallery mounted an international retrospective, which toured to Ben Uri.
This work is one of 13 acquired in 1919 through the auspices of Moshe Oved, among the earliest art works to enter the collection. Solomon’s career had ended in disgrace after he was prosecuted for homosexual activity. Oved’s championing of Solomon’s work was therefore important in the artist’s rehabilitation.