Monday, 25 May 2015

Simeon's Dignity Restored

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.

Simeon’s reputation 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.”

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