Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of Pre-Raphaelite art and have a special interest in the work of Simeon Solomon, a gay Jewish associate of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Over the past couple of
years Frank Vigon has been campaigning and raising funds to have Simeon’s grave
restored to some sort of dignity after he found it neglected and derelict. I’ve
been following this campaign on this blog.
Last July the grave was
finally restored and I was invited to go down to the Willesden Jewish cemetery
to attend the small ceremony that had been arranged. Unfortunately, I was
unable to go down due to work commitments. I hope to go down later this year to
pay me respects this undeservedly under-recognised gay artist.
Simeon Solomon was not one
of the “official” Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but he knew them all. His
paintings usually depicted Biblical or Hebrew subjects and his figures were
often androgynous in appearance. In 1873 he was arrested for homosexual
activity and imprisoned. In jail he continued to draw, though the only
materials he was allowed to use were pastels, chalk and charcoal.
After his arrest many of
Simeon’s friends abandoned him, and when he was released he struggled to
achieve the position in society and the art world he had previously held.
suffered throughout most of the 20th century. One of the first
academics to do serious research into Simeon’s life and work was Lionel
Lambourne. Since then, the 1960s, Simeon’s reputation had grown as his full
story has become more widely known and many people, myself included, were first
attracted to Simeon Solomon through his art and not his lifestyle.
At the unveiling ceremony
of Simeon’s grave were several members of his family who have always been proud
of their famous relative. Also there was the widow of Lionel Lambourne, and
members of the Simeon Solomon Research Archive. Several dozen enthusiasts and
admirers of Simeon’s work gathered with them at the grave side where Frank
Vigon, the prime mover in the fundraising and restoration, thanked everyone
(present and absent) who had helped him to reach this proud day.
Below you can see two
photographs of Simeon’s grave (Ó Simeon Solomon Research Archive). At the top is the grave in its dilapidated state as it was discovered by Frank
Vigon several years ago. Underneath is the newly restored grave with the
original headstone reset and a new memorial stone placed over the grave. An inscription around the edging stones reads
“This grave has been restored with donations received from individuals, museums
and galleries, arts and social organisations, and religious communities in
admiration and appreciation of the art of Simeon Solomon.”