Birth of Victorian painter Rebecca Solomon
"Rebecca Solomon's success as a professional artist was remarkable in the mid-nineteenth century, a time when women artists were the exception rather than the rule. However, that she was among the first Jewish women artists, if not the first, makes her career and artwork even more important."
So writes Anita Kirchen in her extensive biography of Rebecca Solomon, born on this date in 1832. Solomon was born to a prosperous Jewish merchant family living in the fashionable Bishopsgate district. Her father Meyer Solomon became the first Jew to be honored with the Freedom of the City of London, the right to trade or craft in the square mile of the City, London’s commercial district. Her mother Kate (Catherine) Levy Solomon raised eight children, three of whom became artists: Abraham (who painted comedic genre scenes), Simeon (a pre-Raphaelite), and Rebecca, whose work would develop from genre scenes to historical paintings to pre-Raphaelite work.
The Royal Academy of Art Schools, where her brothers studied, would not allow women to attend, so Rebecca studied instead at the Spitalfields School of Design. She studied with the Pre-Raphaelite artists John Everett Millais (1829–1896) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898).
Working within the genre form, which depicted wholesome and moral domestic scenes, Solomon also had a keen eye for the role of women and minorities in the rigid class system of the Victorian era. She noted the injustice in the lives of rich and poor, as in the example of “The Governess,” where the flamboyant, piano-playing wife is doted on by her husband while the starkly dressed governess is left to care for their children. She exhibited almost annually at the Royal Academy for 17 years, and participated in other exhibitions such as the British Institution and the Dudley Gallery.
Active for social causes, Solomon was one of 38 women artists who petitioned the Royal Academy of Art to open its schools to women in 1859. (The first woman was admitted the following year.) She was killed in an accident on the Euston Road in London on November 20, 1886.